LGBT activist and former Oak Park, Illinois Mayor Joanne Trapani died Nov. 29 due to complications from her endometrial cancer diagnosis. She was 71.
Trapani was born in Corona, Queens, New York City on Aug. 5, 1949. She received her bachelor's and two master's degrees from New York University and spent a number of years working on Wall Street at various financial institutions.
While still living in New York City, Trapani began her LGBT activism shortly before the Stonewall Riot in 1969. She was a member of New York City's Gay Activist Alliance, Mattachine Society board of director's member, Lesbian Feminist Liberation founding member and Manhattan Women's Political Caucus member.
In 1976 Trapani moved to the Chicagoland area and quickly got involved in local LGBT rights organizations including as an Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force co-chair, Dignity-Chicago member, Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association (OPALGA), Chicago Police Department Gay and Lesbian Advisory Council member, Cook County Board LGBT liaison, Cook County State's Attorney Hate Crimes Prevention Council member and Cook County State's Attorney's LGBTQ Advisory Council member. She was also involved in HIV/AIDS advocacy.
When Trapani was elected to the Oak Park, Illinois village board in 1997, she became the first out lesbian elected official to hold public office in the state. Four years later, in 2001, Trapani was elected Oak Park, Illinois Village President (the office was renamed mayor in 2018) and served for one four-year term. Some of the initiatives Trapani worked on in these roles include securing funding for studies on the "Cap the Ike" proposal and the Barrie Park coal tar remediation.
In addition to her stint as an Oak Park village board member and mayor, Trapani was also a Cook County Commission on Human Rights staffer at the outset of that office's creation in 1993 until she retired in 2011.
Trapani's role on the commission included investigating complaints filed by the public alleging violations of the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance. She wrote investigation reports, made recommendations whether to proceed with administrative hearings and when possible, facilitated settlements between parties. Additionally, Trapani led diversity training classes for Cook County employees.
Among the many things Trapani lobbied for as an activist was the Illinois Human Rights Amendment to include lesbian and gay people as protected classes (later amended to include all LGBT people in the state) and passage of the LGBT-inclusive Cook County and Oak Park Human Rights Ordinances.
Of the numerous accolades bestowed upon Trapani was her induction into Chicago's LGBT Hall of Fame in 1993, one of the first OPALGA Oak Park Area Leadership Awardees, Dignity-Chicago's John Michie Award and IMPACT's Alongi Award for political activism.
In 1993, Trapani met her future wife Mary Becker when Becker invited her to speak on a panel at the University of Chicago Law School where she taught law. The topic was about the various ways women can be activists. A year later, Trapani invited Becker to a Cook County reception celebrating the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance ban on discrimination based on ones sexual orientation.
This reception was the beginning of their love story. Trapani asked Becker to dinner but the date had to be postponed due to Becker's book deadline. After the book was sent to the publisher they went on that date, fell in love and according to Becker, never looked back.
Years later, Trapani and Becker had a commitment ceremony in 1997 (before civil unions were legal in Illinois) and got married in 2018.
Trapani is survived by Becker, sister Dolores Delape, niece Mary Madine, nephews Charlie Madine and James Madine, great-nephew Charles Madine and her great-niece Alexis Madine and Becker's nieces, nephews and great niblings as wells as countless chosen family members and friends. She was preceded in death by her father Joseph Trapani and mother Mary Horvath Trapani.
"Losing Joanne felt like all the air went out of the room," said Becker's niece Maggie Lyons. "She really liked peopleeven those who judged her for being a lesbian. She was never too busy to stop and have a conversation with a friend or a complete stranger. Joanne was very sick and in great pain near the end of her life, but made sure to vote early because she believed in the power of the ballot box. We learned so much from her, from how to properly cook pasta to how to be brave in the face of prejudice and to fight for what we believe in."
"Serving with Joanne on the village board, you could not help but always be impressed with her level of preparedness, attention to detail, quick wit and innovative thinking," said longtime friend and former colleague Ray Johnson. "She always asked the best questions, and got to the heart of a matter. Yes, she was direct and spoke her mind, but always with the greater good in sight. I was honored to serve with her, and know that she gave me insights into governing and public policy that helped me personally & professionally.
"On a personal level, the joy and thoughtfulness she always shared with her wife Mary, inspired comfort. You always left their home feeling better about the world."
"Joanne Trapani is unforgettable with her fiery personality and ability to reach out to others as well as confront policy and promote human rights," said longtime friend Nathan Linsk. "She was a constant support and resource to OPALGA since it began in 1989. Joanne went on to serve in many civic capacities, putting her mark on Oak Park's evolution. She also was a great help in planning travel to Italy.
"Her passion, advocacy, great cooking, loving nature and incredible achievements for human rights, good government and enduring friendship are inestimable. As my daughter was growing up in a two-dad household in the late 80s early 90s Joanne took it on herself to be an 'aunt' to her, taking her on excursions and entertainment, in effect mentoring her. Joanne's laugh and good humor remains an enduring memory which blesses us all."
"I have known hundreds of people but Joanne stands out," said longtime friend Suzanne Kraus. "She was intensely unique and so talented, so committed and so aware. Joanne did not suffer fools easily. She spoke her mind and was a good friend. We became close again over the last five years of her life. Joanne recognized and valued her heritage especially the food. She was a good cook. Her father was Sicilian, her mother was Hungarian. She was a proud native of New York City and Jewish. What a passionate combination.
"She dealt with the cancer diagnoses as she livedintense, practical, inquisitive, thorough and positive. I am grieving her loss, for Mary, for her family and friends, for me, for our community and really the world. We were blessed to have had her among us. She lit a lot of fires and achieved much. Her memory will definitely always be for a blessing. 'Pace cara mia amica, il tuo lavoro è finite.'"
"Joanne was smart, had a great sense of humor and cared deeply for others," said longtime friend John O'Connell. "In addition to her decades of political and social activism, she engaged in daily acts of kindness and generosity to those around her, and she never missed an opportunity to help someone in need. Joanne was also a trusted friend and mentor to her work colleagues at the Cook County Commission on Human Rights."
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, the family will not be holding a memorial service. They ask that donations be made to Doctors Without Borders in Trapani's name.