Longtime LGBTQ activist Julie Valloni died March 28 in Rockford, Illinois due to complications from a hip fracture. She was 80.
Valloni was born July 12, 1940 and grew up in Chicago where she graduated from Austin High School. She attended DePaul University for two years in the 1950s and years later began working as a legal secretary for Schwartzberg, Barnett and Cohen for seven years. Valloni left that law firm for a legal secretary job at Jenner and Block, where she worked for almost 20 years.
Among the many things Valloni did for the LGBTQ community was as co-chair the Chicago contingent to the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. Her co-chair was Victor Salvo, who later founded the Legacy Project. She also co-chaired what was then called the Gay and Lesbian Parents Group that met at Horizons (now Center on Halsted) in the 1980s, with Mike Menefee. She also led Chicago 35, a group for lesbians aged 35 and older, for a number of years.
Valloni loved to travel and embarked on trips to every continent, as well as the base camp on Mount Everest. Other activities that she enjoyed included snorkeling and participating in the annual Hussle Up the Hancock, a 1,632-stair climb to raise money for the Respiratory Health Association, on behalf of Jenner and Block.
Like many gay and lesbian people in her generation, Valloni had to stay closeted outside her close family and friends circles. She met her daughter Karen's teacher Sister Frances Celine Leahy during a parent-teacher conference at the local Catholic school she attended. They fell in love and were together for 28 years until Leahy's death in 1999.
Valloni is survived by her daughter Karen (Al) Romero and their son James Romero, brother Ralph (Cathy)Sorice, many nieces and nephews and countless chosen family members and friends.
"Julie was a warm and unassuming activist with no agenda whatsoeverbeyond sharing and celebrating the dignity and humanity of all LGBTQ people," said Salvo. "She and her lover, Sr. Frances, were an utter joy to work with. They were both great soundboards with no shortage of encouragement to share. The March on Washington was my first attempt at anything approaching 'community leadership.' That intimidating challenge was made possible because I had a partner who saw only the best in every situation and every person. I went to Julie to 'recharge my batteries.' Activists like Julie Valloni are all too rare. Her passing leaves a hole in my heart and an echo in my memories. I am still trying to process it."
"Julie was a fantastic, outspoken, wonderful woman," said Menefee. "She was an incredible asset to the Gay and Lesbian Parent's Group and I will always remember the outings we did with our children, and later grandchildren, to places like Cantigny Park and the Shrine Circus in the Chicago suburbs. I was always thrilled to work with her and have her in my life."
"Julie was as sweet as could be, but beneath her wonderful smile and unpretentious charm was a soul absolutely dedicated to the cause," said former Horizons Executive Director Bruce Koff. "I initially mistook her boundless faith and optimism for naivete but I quickly saw that these were simply manifestations of her remarkable tenacity and determination. As co-director of the Gay and Lesbian Parents Group, she gave LGBTQ parents in those early days a critical voice and a vital place to connect, find support and share resources. Julie was a pioneer whom we could rely on to get the job done, and I will always be grateful to her."
"When I first started at Jenner in 1997 Julie was my assistant," said longtime friend and Jenner and Block partner Gail H. Morse. "She was invaluable in learning the ropes at this new firm, generous with her insights and would always meet me with a smile and a cheery greeting. It was not until I settled in and we talked more that I learned of Julie's advocacy for LGBT civil rights, her role in organizing Chicagoans to support and attend the March on Washington and her work on issues involving the lesbian community in Chicago. Our stories are so powerful and hers as a trailblazing lesbian had me in awe of her strength, integrity in standing up for what is right and what she accomplished in her quiet way. We build community with our history one story at a time. Those stories reflecting action are the bricks paving the road for the future. Julie powerfully paved the road to a better world for the LGBT communities in Chicago and nationally."
The visitation and memorial service will take place Saturday, May 15, at 1 p.m. at Shopiere Congregational Church, 5328 E. Church St., Beloit, WI 53511.