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Politically Correct Women - Pride in the Windy City

By Sheryl Kay for Curve

Friday, October 30, 2009

Politically Correct Women - Pride in the Windy City

To know lesbian life in Chicago is to know Vernita Gray.

She helped found Chicago’s first lesbian newspaper, Lavender Woman, helped organize the city’s very first Pride Parade, and set up one of Chicago’s first gay information hotlines—which she operated out of her apartment.

“My phone was always ringing, and there was always someone in my little apartment because my place was also a crash pad for my eers who had no place to go,” says Gray. “Today we call them homeless.”

Since 1993, Gray’s talents have been put to good use at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, where she was the LGBT victim-witness coordinator, working with victims of hate crimes, domestic violence and the families of homicide victims. After six years she was promoted to LGBT liaison, responsible for reaching out to high school students about hate crimes and issues of violence in the community. For that work she was given a Stonewall award.

She also worked beside Barack Obama when he was an Illinois senator as a member of his LGBT advisory council. Their acquaintance brought her to the Democratic convention in Denver, and to his inauguration in Washington, D.C.

In addition to her ongoing projects in the State’s Attorney’s office, Gray also devotes time to LGBT senior citizen’s issues, and in particular, access to nursing homes where the gay community feels comfortable.

“We will not be going back into closets as we age, particularly my generation of boomers,” observes Gray. “We are going to the old folks’ home with our rainbow flags, so they better get ready.”

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