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Yearbook: Getting involved in Community

This article shared 6732 times since Wed Sep 21, 2005
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Organizations have been the backbone of change for the gay and lesbian community. Some highlights of who was doing what in the mid 1980s.

Pictured #1 Renee Hanover, George Buse and Hal Wand discuss senior gay issues in the late 1980s. #2 At a 1989 rally with Richard Daley at Ann Sather's restaurant on Belmont. Front row, from left: Dewey Herrington, Ald. Kathy Osterman ( she has since died ) , Bernie Hansen, Daley, Nancy Reiff, and Gay Chicago Publisher Ralph Paul Gernhardt. #3 The 1988 executive board of the now-defunct Illinois Gay & Lesbian Task Force ( the late Al Wardell is third from right ) . Photo by Greg Elin. #4 From a 1994 Outlines article on Asians and Friends Chicago, still operating today. #5 Their 10th b-day, including first AFC president, Samson Chan, who returned from Hong Kong for the event ( he later passed away ) . From left: William Kelley, Chen Ooi, Bill Quirk, Makoto Hioki, Samson Chan and Lee Wollard. Photo by Tracy Baim. #6 IMPACT dpmates tp A;d/ Bermoe Jamsem s 199 campaign. Pictured: Art Joynston, Hansen, and Suzanne Kraus. # 7 Phyllis Athey, now deceased, and Mary Jo Osterman, Kinheart's founders, in the mid 1980s. #8 Gerber/Hart Library's Ruth Ketchum is pictured with then co-librarian Joe Gregg (right) in 1987. Gregg has since died. Seated is playwright Jeff Hagedorn, who was donating items to the library when this photo was taken by Tracy Baim. Hagedorn wrote ONE, the first play about AIDS, in 1982. He died in 1995.

PFLAG Chicago

Back in 1985, there was only one Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays ( PFLAG ) chapter in the city. According to Char Cepek, president of the Northern Illinois Council of PFLAG, a small Lakeview chapter met in a church on Wellington. 'The original chapter in Lakeview folded because everyone moved' to the suburbs, Cepek said.

By the late '80s an offshoot began in Hinsdale. Now, there are seven PFLAG chapters in suburbs such as Palatine and Oak Park. According to Cepek, there are plans to resurrect the Lakeview chapter. 'There's been a lot of growth, but out to the suburbs,' she said. Many of these chapters started out with a couple of people, she added, but grew immensely over the years.

Howard Brown Health Center

Initially known as Howard Brown Memorial Clinic in 1974, Howard Brown Health Center has become one of the Midwest's leading providers of support, research and services for Chicago's LGBT community.

In 1985, with the onset of AIDS, the focus was on the testing, education and treatment of STDs among gay men. The center was the first community-based agency to respond to the crisis, developing the first Midwest AIDS hotline.

Dr. Frank Pieri described 1985 as a 'grim' and 'overwhelming' period of time for the center. There was a test for HIV, but no real significant treatment had been developed. 'The community was dealing with a frightening, very depressing period of time.' Since then, there has been a real push towards prevention and education to avoid being overwhelmed by a crisis. 'Now, it's not like you are stomping out fires to survive,' Pieri said. 'There's a much more hopeful, vibrant vibe.'

Mattachine Midwest

In 1985, Mattachine Midwest ( MM ) was a year from disbanding, but was busy blowing out its 20th birthday candles. Soon after the anniversary celebration, its last president, Ira Jones, died, and the once highly political and social service organization could not attract enough new members to keep it going. 'By [ 1985 ] , it was on life support,' said Bill Kelley, the group's first elected secretary.

According to Kelley, MM circa 1965 attempted to do everything: meeting social service needs, creating a telephone hotline, publishing a newsletter, seeking media publicity, opposing discrimination and police misconduct and holding social events. ' [ B ] ut during the next 20 years various specialized organizations, building on the groundwork MM helped to lay, gradually emerged to do each of those things better,' Kelley said. 'When MM finally died, it had served its purpose.'

Gerber/Hart Library

Twenty years ago, Gerber/Heart was preparing for its Oct. 1 move to the basement of 3228 N. Sheffield—the third move since its beginning. Since then, the library has moved two more times and seen its space double many times over, said Gerber/Hart's Karen Sendziak.

In terms of access to LGBT literature, a lot has changed over the years. 'In 1985, gay libraries and bookstores were virtually the only places to find gay books,' Sendziak said. 'Now, in 2005, mainstream bookstores carry a wide variety of LGBT titles.'

Since the '80s, the facility—now the largest LGBT library in the Midwest, at 1127 W. Granville—has been able to increase the space it devotes to collecting and preserving the community's history and sponsoring programs that can accommodate more people, as well.


Now known as Kindred Hearts, in 1985, Kinheart was in the third year of its existence, providing a safe lesbian, bisexual and feminist-based gathering space for women. The organization offered programs such as coming-out groups and Friday night discussions. Although Kindred Hearts has moved from its original space at Wheadon United Methodist Church and added more programs, it still offers the same social and support groups, as well as education programs to empower women and give them a sense of community.

Kinheart was founded by partners Mary Jo Osterman and Phyllis Jean Athey. In 1985, Betty Siuba—who later became a board member—came down to Kinheart for help. Siuba said attendance was great, even though the group didn't offer nearly as much as it does now. 'It was really a good place to be because there wasn't a lot' of places to go, she said. 'I was very, very happy to have Kinheart. I was just happy to be able to connect with them.'

The group went through some hard times with the death of Athey a few years later, Siuba added. 'In the beginning, there were some real tough times,' Siuba said. 'It was a real shock, but it pulled people together, too. I think people had to bond back then.'

Fox Valley Gay Association

Twenty years ago, hundreds were involved in the suburban Fox Valley Gay Association ( FVGA ) , a social/civic organization started in 1974. Today, one man, President Lee Schrank, is taking care of the organization.

In 1985, FVGA had about 180 paid members, though many more would attend events. 'At that time, there was a lot of camaraderie,' said Schrank. 'Gays were different back then. We needed each other.' Schrank recalls losing many members to AIDS, and setting up a fund to help out members with the disease.

In addition, FVGA had young blood. Life partners were met, and long-lasting friendships were formed. 'The guys were really youthful, and rather idealistic,' he added.

Due to a shrinking membership, FVGA's social programs have been closed. But Schrank and a few remaining members are considering a new format. FVGA still has a strong Speakers Bureau, where members speak with local organizations and the media.

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