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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-02-22



Passages: Jerry Armstrong, Joann Ah'ni, Jean O'Leary

This article shared 4395 times since Wed Jun 8, 2005
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Pictured Joann Ah'ni, Jean O'Leary

Jerry Lee Armstrong, owner and operator of the Manhandler Saloon, 1948 N. Halsted, in Chicago passed away May 30.

Armstrong had been in declining health since suffering a recent stroke. One Manhandler bartender told Windy City Times that he had a feeling of foreboding when he last saw Armstrong. 'I had a bad feeling when I saw him a couple of weeks ago,' the bartender said. 'However, I didn't think that [ his passing ] would happen this soon.'

For years, Manhandler has served as a distinct alternative to the city's gay dance nightspots. The Web site Metromix quoted one Manhandler bartender as saying that the hangout 'is not an in-your-face bar. …We have some men come in who are married who are notout of the closet. We're not out for guppies ( gay yuppies ) .''

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Armstrong was the son of the late James and Winifred Armstrong, brother of Darlene Stewart, nephew of Ona Graef, partner of Tom Black and a lifelong friend of Haddie Roosevelt.

Joann Ah'ni

Joann Ah'ni, a Pacific Islander transgender who was a native of Honolulu, passed away May 23. She was in her mid-50s.

Nalani Kolona, a fellow native Hawaiian who befriended Ah'ni for 20 years in Chicago, told Windy City Times that she did not know that Ah'ni even had siblings until she stumbled across her birth certificate while cleaning out her apartment. ( It turns out that Ah'ni has five brothers and seven sisters. ) Kolona plans to have Ah'ni's death notice publicized in a local newspaper so the family knows of her passing.

When asked what she will miss most about Ah'ni, Kolona commented on her strength. 'She was my biggest supporter. Every time I wanted to give up trying to prove to the world that I belong here and that I am part of the community, she would say 'So you're not going to be successful all the time. Is that really a reason to give up?' She would tell me that it's easier to give up than to stay in there and sustain the fight.' Kolona added with a chuckle that she will also miss Ah'ni's cooking and technical proficiency: 'I liked that she could program a VCR for me.'

At the time of her conversation with Windy City Times, Kolona did not know the exact cause of Ah'ni's death. 'The doctor called, saying that she had gone into cardiac arrest and her brain had stopped functioning. He thought it was more humane for us to not resuscitate her,' Kolona said. However, she added that Ah'ni was HIV-positive and was battling lung cancer. In keeping with Ah'ni's secretive nature regarding personal details, Kolona stated that she was also not one to discuss her ailments: 'I actually didn't even know she had cancer until a month before she died, when I noticed a dramatic weight loss.'

Ah'ni was cremated on June 1. Kolona plans to take her ashes ( as well as those of her cat ) to Hawaii and spread them there. ' [ Ah'ni's ] spirit and soul need to be there,' she said.

Jean O'Leary

Lesbian activist, former nun and Democratic party leader Jean O'Leary died June 4 at the San Clemente, Calif., home of Lisa Phelps, her partner of 12 years, and surrounded by her family and friends. O'Leary, who had been battling lung cancer for two years, was 57.

O'Leary was an advocate for the rights of gays and lesbians, women and people with HIV/AIDS as well as a prominent Democratic party activist. Over the course of a 35-year career, she ran several national gay-rights groups, co-founded pioneering organizations, including Lesbian Feminist Liberation and National Coming Out Day, and worked to elect Democratic candidates.

Born March 4, 1948, in Kingston, New York, Jean Marie O'Leary grew up mostly in Ohio. She used the occasion of her high school graduation speech in 1966 to announce her entry into the Sisters of the Holy Humility convent. In a 1984 anthology, Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence, O'Leary said she joined the convent because 'there was no anti-war movement, no women's movement, no gay movement in Ohio in 1966' and that she 'wanted to do something special, to have an impact on the world.'

She graduated from Cleveland State University with a degree in psychology in 1970, left the convent and became the drummer for a girl band, The Satin Dolls. Soon thereafter, she packed up her drums and moved to New York to pursue doctoral studies in organizational development at Yeshiva University. She became enmeshed in the burgeoning gay and lesbian rights movement, attending the political meetings and social events at the Firehouse, joining the Gay Activists Alliance ( GAA ) and driving once a week to Albany to lobby state legislators on gay issues.

In 1972, frustrated with the sexism of the male-dominated GAA, she founded Lesbian Feminist Liberation, taking most of the women from GAA with her and establishing one of the first organized lesbian voices within the women's movement. Two years later, O'Leary and Bruce Voeller, then executive director of the National Gay Task Force, negotiated an agreement for co-gender management of the national movement and O'Leary joined Voeller as NGTF co-executive director.

Feminist leader Gloria Steinem, who worked often with O'Leary, said: 'Jean O'Leary was a link of kindness and humanity and inclusive politics who helped the women's movement to recognize the universal cost of homophobia, and the gay movement to see that marginalizing the voices of lesbians would only diminish its power. I know she will be with us as long as we remember what she taught us, but I and thousands of others will always miss her spirit.'

In her role at NGTF, and through her close friendship with Presidential advisor Midge Costanza, in 1977 O'Leary organized the historic first-ever meeting of gay-rights advocates in the White House, March 26, 1977. She was also the first openly gay person appointed to a Presidential commission, by President Jimmy Carter, who appointed her to the National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year. In that role, she negotiated the inclusion of gay and lesbian rights on the agenda of the International Women's Year conference in Houston in 1979.

O'Leary was also active in Democratic party politics, including her election in 1976 as the first openly lesbian delegate to a national political convention. She served on the Democratic National Committee for 12 years, including eight on that group's Executive Committee, the first openly gay or lesbian person to serve in that capacity.

O'Leary spent most of the 1980s building a local San Francisco group, Gay Rights Advocates, into one of the largest national gay and lesbian activist organizations, National Gay Rights Advocates ( NGRA ) .

Sean Strub, founder of POZ Magazine, said, 'Jean's activism spanned so many movements: the women's movement, gay and lesbian rights, AIDS activism as well as Democratic party politics. Her early AIDS activism through NGRA, particularly in expediting access to new treatments, saved many lives. Her passing is a loss for all people who are ill, disadvantaged or suffering and all people who treasure justice.'

'Jean taught gay men about feminism, she taught lesbians about AIDS, she taught feminists about gay and lesbian issues and she taught Democrats about everything. She personified the use of power with grace and purpose,' said Bob Hattoy, a Democratic party and AIDS activist who spoke at the 1992 Democratic National Convention.

In founding National Coming Out Day with psychologist Rob Eichberg in 1987, O'Leary noted that 'coming out is critically important to our community and to our movement. Our invisibility is the essence of our oppression.'

A memorial service is being planned.

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