Out and Proud in Chicago

June 26, 2011

In Illinois and New York, a real reason to be proud

I will be the first to tell you that today’s radio program will be unusually light on gardening, green living and environmental stuff and more focused on the kinds of things that happen when somewhere between 200,000 and 400,000 people gather to celebrate human diversity. And you know what? That’s okay with me.

The Mike Nowak Show is broadcasting from the Center on Halsted as part of a special day of radio On Chicago’s Progressive Talk. I’m on at my usual time, from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m.. Then,Stephanie Miller, Hal Sparks and John Fugelsang step up to the mic for a special broadcast of the annual Chicago Pride Parade from noon to 3:00 p.m. At that point, producer Heather Frey and I will wade into the dancing masses to report on…well, on anything that seems remote interesting, and report back to the anchor desk.

Here’s the rundown for my two hours on Pride Parade Day.

We start with Modesto Tico Valle, Chief Executive Officer of the Center on Halsted. It would be hard to overstate the impact of this facility in the East Lakeview community. If you just look at just its green chops, the 175,000 square foot building is Silver LEED Certified, has a gray water system, uses recycled building materials, employs a day lighting system, as well as computerized control of HVAC and lighting.

But that doesn’t even begin to show how COH addresses issues like

  • Bisexual Programs that include social networking, movies and discussions
  • A Community Technology Center that provides assistance to 2,000 patrons annually with free internet access; tech. training in MS Word, MS Excel, etc.
  • Community & Cultural Program that served 5,000 participants in 2010
  • Family Programs that allow LGBT and ally families to gather in a positive and affirming environment
  • Recreational Programs featuring volleyball, basketball, hockey and yoga
  • SAGE (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders), serving15,000 meals to 800 seniors annually, as well as coffee and conversation, cultural outings, movie nights and workshops
  • Transgender Programs, with open mic, seminars and movies
  • Women’s Programs that feature topics including health, arts and politics

My introduction to the next show segment starts with me asking whether you think President Barack Obama’s basically-non-endorsement of gay marriage is troubling to you. Well, it probably depends on where you stand on that issue. Me? In this regard, I think he’s putting “Slick Willie” (remember him? a guy named William Jefferson Clinton) in the shade. It’s sad, really, that a black man won’t stand up for his gay brothers and sisters.

Which brings us to Tracy Baim, who is publisher and executive editor at Windy City Media Group, which produces Windy City Times, Nightspots, and other gay media in Chicago. She’s been in this fight longer than many of you have been alive. She is also author of the 2010 book Obama and the Gays: A Political Marriage, which looks at Obama’s decidedly backsliding support of gay marriage. In case you’re wondering what I’m talking about, you might want to take a look at a 1996 survey filled out by then-candidate for Illinois State Senate, Barack Hussein Obama.

But getting back to Ms. Baim, she co-founded Windy City Times in 1985 and Outlines newspaper in 1987. She has won numerous gay community and journalism honors, including the Community Media Workshop’s Studs Terkel Award in 2005. She is also the co-author and editor of Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City’s Gay Community (2008, Agate), the first comprehensive book on Chicago’s gay history.

In the 10:00 a.m. hour, things really turn political when I talk to Illinois State Representaive Greg Harris and Illinois State Senator Don Harmon. You might recognize Representative Harris as one of the chief sponsors of the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act., which went into effect on the first day of June. Harris has been fighting for gay rights for years, having introduced civil union legislation every year since 2007. Senator Harmon also played a key role in the passage of the bill, working with Senator Heather Steans and Representative Deborah Mell to defeat amendments that would have gutted the law.

Just yesterday, New York was added to the list of states that recognize the right of same sex couples to either marry or enter into a civil union. While this is a clear sign that the gay rights agenda is picking up steam across the country, there are still sticking points. For instance, lawmakers in Illinois were blindsided by the Illinois Department of Revenue, which says it will not allow couples in civil unions to file joint state income tax returns.

Not only that, but Illinois is finding that it must now deal with religious organizations who do not approve of the the new law. For instance, Catholic Charities elected to terminate publicly funded foster care and adoption services on June 1 when civil unions went into effect. The termination is effective June 30. What kind of strain that puts on the child welfare system in Illinois remains to be seen.

Wrapping things up is a chat with Brandon Haydonof Chicago Diner, an institution at 3411 Halsted Street for decades. In fact, its slogan is “Meat Free Since ’83.” That’s when Marshall “Mickey” Hornick went from restaurant dishwasher to manager to owner–all in about one year. With his business and life partner “Chef Jo” Kaucher, he decided to open a “veggie diner.”

Their start wasn’t auspicious. According the Chicago Diner website:

When Hornick and his partner, “Chef Jo” Kaucher, opened the restaurant in 1983, critics, loan officers and family members alike scoffed at the idea, some vehemently. “It’s like we were going against apple pie and mom and the whole thing,” Hornick recalled. “Big shot advertising guys came in and said you’re pissing against the wind.

Their answer was to create an atmosphere as American as mini malls, decorating the place with vintage ads and neon lights and serving up heaping helpings of comfort food, but without the meat. “Instead of burgers, we have veggie burgers,” explains Kauchner, who, together with a long line of collaborators in the kitchen, created the Diner’s menu and authored The Chicago Diner Cookbook. “Instead of french fries we serve home fries,” she adds. They also offer vegan milkshakes, a Philly Cheese “Steak,” with homemade seitan in place of beef, biscuits & vegetarian gravy and “not” dogs for the kids….

28 years later, they’re still going strong, and they’re an integral part of the neighborhood. We’ll see what’s on the menu today.

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