Sunday, March 11, 2007

PERSON OF INTEREST: BILL GREAVES - City's liaison to gays takes pride in special hall of fame

PERSON OF INTEREST: BILL GREAVES - City's liaison to gays takes pride in special hall of fame
By Sid Smith an arts critic for the Tribune
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published March 11, 2007

The AIDS-related death last week of Bob Hattoy, the California activist who made headlines in 1992 as the first openly gay person with AIDS to address a national political convention, shines a spotlight anew on gay politics and issues.

It also is a reminder of the growing list of contemporary figures playing an important role in the gay movement. Closer to home, such figures--from politics, the arts, civic life and other areas--are celebrated by induction into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame, a project that began in 1991 and now boasts 227 honorees. One such honoree, for example, is Rene A. Van Hulle Jr., a volunteer for gay causes who died Feb. 27 after suffering from AIDS and lupus.

Bill Greaves, a one-time Amoco chemist who has been Chicago's liaison to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities since 2000, administers the hall of fame, which is the only organization of its kind, he said. The hall's historical and current exhibits can be viewed at

Greaves spoke to the Tribune last week; an edited transcript follows.

Q. What exactly is the hall of fame?

A. It's both a historical project and an exhibit. It's a way for the city of Chicago to recognize and celebrate the contributions of the LGBT communities. We do that through an induction ceremony and a display every year.

Q. What goes on besides the actual list itself?

A. There's a yearly exhibit of that year's inductees. ... The exhibit is on display for one day as part of the induction ceremony, attended by the mayor, usually sometime in late October or early November, at the Chicago Cultural Center. Then, the exhibit moves to the James R. Thompson Center for about a week. It is also usually on exhibit near the end of the year in Springfield. Throughout the year, it's on display at various businesses and community organizations throughout Chicago.

Q. Who are some of the more interesting or intriguing inductees?

A. Every single person in the hall of fame is interesting and intriguing and has a story that's fascinating. If I must single out a person or two, I'd pick Lorraine Hansberry [playwright and author], one of the first women to address sexual orientation issues in literature. James Darby is a U.S. Navy and Korean War veteran who co-founded the Chicago chapter of the LGBT veterans group. He has been extremely active in gay and lesbian veterans issues, he sits on the city's advisory council on veterans affairs, and he continues to fight the restrictions of the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Mayor Richard Daley was inducted for ... his LGBT-inclusive public policy. Juan Reed is an openly gay African-American Episcopal minister on Chicago's West Side. And Ed Negron is a former gangbanger who turned his life around and is now a substance-abuse counselor.

Q. What are the most urgent issues facing the LGBT community in Chicago?

A. One is political. There are many LGBT communities in Chicago, each with a distinctive culture. Weaving those together into a strong fabric to better contribute to the city and to withstand attack is one of the most important issues. The second issue of utmost importance, in terms of health and well-being, is combating the discrimination and oppression stemming from stigma and homophobia. Overt and covert discrimination affects such areas as access to health care, workplace opportunities, violence and so forth. And all of that affects our self-perception, our mental health, our well-being.

Q. Not gay marriage and AIDS?

A. I think the ones I mentioned are overarching issues that we face every single day.

Q. Is there a second wave of AIDS deaths ongoing now among middle-aged gays?

A. No. HIV-AIDS continues to be one of the top health concerns for gay and bisexual men. However, relative to the AIDS epidemic in the '80s and '90s, the numbers of AIDS-related deaths are low. In fact, the numbers of AIDS-related deaths in Chicago are at an all-time low, according to figures from the Office of LGBT Health and the Division of STD/HIV/AIDS, both in the Chicago Department of Public Health. In 2003, the latest year for which we have figures, less than 300 people died from AIDS.

Q. Is it an ongoing problem convincing young gays to follow safe-sex practices?

A. It's a challenge to convince persons of any age to engage in safe-sex practices. Most young gay and bisexual men have not lost friends or partners the way people did in the '80s and '90s, so they may see it as a more distant and theoretical risk. Some older men may experience safe-sex fatigue after staunchly practicing it for 25 years. So it's a challenge for everyone.

Q. How big a role does the crystal meth epidemic play in safe-sex practices?

A. A recent citywide survey showed that 90 percent of gay men reported no use of crystal meth. But it is an important health issue. That's because it can greatly impair a person's adherence to safe-sex practices. But the issue is really one beyond crystal meth. It has been shown in study after study that members of oppressed communities are more likely to abuse substances. The reason is simple. To deal with homophobia, discrimination, all the negative messages aimed at the gay community, people sometimes self-medicate, with whatever is at hand. Cigarettes, alcohol, amphetamines--whatever comes to hand. Most of those affect a person's ability to adhere to safe-sex practices.



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