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SPECIAL REPORT: ‘You can’t let adversity get you down’

Cedric Burgess, poverty, gay news, Washington Blade

Cedric Burgess says he lives ‘check to check’ while relying on government assistance to pay bills. Despite his struggles, he works to give back to the LGBT community. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part look at how poverty affects elder members of the LGBT community and part of a yearlong Blade focus on poverty. To share your ideas or personal story, visit us on Facebook or email Click here to read previous installments.


“I did my dirt,” said Cedric Burgess, a black gay man and longtime Washington, D.C. resident who grew up in the District. “I was young and full of fun!”

Today, Burgess, 61, is a recovering alcoholic who suffers from depression. He’s been HIV positive for more than 30 years. “I live from check to check,” said Burgess, who receives Social Security disability benefits.

Before undergoing a hip replacement four years ago, he struggled to walk up to his second-story apartment.

“It is a wonder to be able to walk without my cane,” Burgess said. “No matter what pain pills I took, I couldn’t get to sleep. You don’t realize how much pain you’re in. You adapt. I couldn’t cross my legs. Steps weren’t an option.”

At 19, Burgess came out to his family.

“I was accepted by my family. I was taken in,” he said, “that was a blessing!”

For some years, he worked in a series of clerical jobs. In 1982, Burgess, then living and working as an administrative assistant in Atlanta, was hit by a drunk driver. The accident left him with back pain, nerve damage and sciatica. For two years, unable to work, he did physical therapy. In 1984, Burgess returned to work. After returning to D.C., he went back to doing clerical work.

During the AIDS epidemic, his family confronted Burgess.

“They said ‘you gotta get tested,’” he said. “In 1991, after I found out I was positive, I took a two-week vacation. I got HIV through a blood transfusion I received when I had my accident.  They weren’t screening transfusions for HIV then.”

In 2006, his back pain became so severe that Burgess left the workforce. He said he retired from the Green Door, a D.C. organization that helps people with mental challenges, where he worked as a program assistant.

“You can’t let adversity get you down, you have to have a positive attitude,” Burgess added.  Fortunately, he said, social safety net programs help him to make ends meet. In addition to his monthly disability check, Burgess receives food stamps. His health care is covered by Medicare and Medicaid.

“I receive energy assistance from Pepco and two-thirds of my rent, with funding from the Ryan White Act, is subsidized by the Washington, D.C. Housing Coalition,” Burgess said.

These programs are a lifeline for him. “Without the rental assistance and the Medicare and Medicaid, I wouldn’t be able to afford housing and health care,” Burgess said. “I couldn’t pay for my HIV medications and I couldn’t have had my hip replacement.”

Cedric Burgess, poverty, gay news, Washington Blade

Cedric Burgess says many elders don’t know their legal rights when it comes to housing and other issues. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Despite living with economic hardship, Burgess leads an active and full life. Committed to helping others, he has volunteered for groups serving everyone from homeless youth to elders.  “I’m a goodwill ambassador for the DC Center for the LGBT Community and for AARP,” Burgess said. “I help seniors learn about their rights in housing and in nursing homes. Many seniors don’t know their rights.”

“I believe in God’s healing,” he went on, “I go to church. I have no prejudice against any other religion. I’m a spiritually free person.”

Burgess’s situation is far from unique. Many LGBT older adults (aging Baby Boomers over 50) live with economic insecurity.

“Media and marketing stereotypes view the LGBT community as an affluent niche group filled with couples with double incomes,” said Matthew J. Corso, chief communications officer and board member of the DC Center for the LGBT Community. “The poverty rate among LGBT older adults is much higher than people would think from the marketing view. Older adults can often feel isolated.”

The DC Center’s Coffee and Conversation is a safe space where older adults can connect with others in the community and discuss issues related to living with economic insecurity, Corso said.

People rarely look at economic insecurity and aging, said Robert Espinoza, senior director of public policy and communications for Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), “People studying poverty don’t look often enough at poverty among LGBT and older people.  On the other side, people studying LGBT issues aren’t looking often enough at aging and poverty.”

But studies that have been done show that poverty is high among elders and even higher among LGBT older adults, Espinoza said. Among the findings:

• One in six Americans aged 65 and older lives in poverty, according to a 2013 Congressional Research Service report.

• The poverty rate is as high or higher among lesbian, gay and bisexual people than for heterosexual people, and lesbian couples, 65 and older, are twice as likely to be poor as straight married couples, according to a 2009 Williams Institute Report.

• There are an estimated 1.5 million gay, lesbian and bisexual elders in the United States today. The number is expected to increase to nearly 3 million by 2030, according to “Improving the Lives of LGBT Older Adults” from SAGE, the Movement Advancement Program (MAP) and Center for American Progress.

• Because historically LGBT people have not been able to marry, many LGBT older adults face the economic insecurity and health issues that come with aging without the support from families that heterosexual older adults often receive. LGBT elders are twice as likely to be single and three to four times more likely to be without children as their straight peers, according to the MAP report.

• Transgender adults encounter profound discrimination, according to a SAGE and National Center for Transgender Equality 2012 report. They experience “striking disparities in … health care access … employment and more,” the report states, “with a growing older transgender population, there is an urgent need to understand the challenges that can threaten financial security, health and overall well-being.”

Several factors contribute to poverty among LGBT elders. “In the past, many faced employment discrimination because they were LGBT. LGBT people of color and lesbians faced even more severe discrimination,” Espinoza said. “Too many LGBT older adults have little, if any, retirement savings.”

• LGBT older adults face health disparities and 47 percent of LGBT people over 50 have a disability, said Imani Woody, Ph.D., chair of SAGE Metro D.C. “More than one in 10 LGBT people aged 50-plus have been denied health care or provided with inferior health care,” she said. “This can lead to economic insecurity, which can translate to poverty. If you don’t have access to health care, what do you have?”

Even older LGBT adults with moderate incomes, who wouldn’t think of themselves as facing poverty, can become impoverished if they become disabled or need long-term care, Espinoza said. “If you only have savings of, say, $60,000, it will go quickly.”

Lack of affordable housing and housing discrimination are key reasons why many LGBT older adults live in or near poverty. Same-sex older couples encounter discrimination when seeking housing in senior living facilities, according to a report, “Opening Doors: An Investigation of Barriers to Senior Housing for Same-Sex couples,” released last month by the Equal Rights Center, a civil rights organization in partnership with SAGE.

“We saw a number of adverse treatments with a high economic impact,” said Don Kahl, executive director, Equal Rights Center. “Sometimes they were charged for having an ‘extra person.’ At other times, they were told they’d have to take a more expensive two-bedroom apartment when they wanted a one-bedroom,” he said, “In other cases, they were treated in such a manner, that they wouldn’t accept the housing even if it was offered.”

It’s a misperception to think that as people age, they accumulate wealth and live out their days in comfort, said Peter Johnson, director of public relations for the Center on Halsted in Chicago. “It’s even more true for LGBT older adults. Before we began to experience marriage equality, LGBT seniors might have shared finances unevenly with their partners,” he said. “Without marriage, if one partner dies or the relationship ends, a huge financial burden is placed on the remaining partner.”

The Halsted Center is working with the Heartland Alliance to provide LGBT older adults with affordable housing in the LakeView neighborhood of Chicago. “While not exclusively LGBT it will be LGBT focused and friendly,” Johnson said. “It will be 70 units of subsidized housing with the rent being no more than 30 percent of residents’ income.”

LGBT elders live in or near poverty nationwide — from rural to metropolitan areas, Johnson said. “We are fortunate to have Heartland [Alliance] dealing with us on these issues.”

      Next week: Meet elder members of the LGBT community coping with unemployment and economic insecurity.


SPECIAL REPORT In their own words: elders facing poverty, ageism

Mary Paradise, Sage, ageism, gay news, Washington Blade

‘They never say ‘you’re too old.’ They say, ‘we want someone who graduated more recently,’ said D.C. resident Mary Paradise of her prolonged job search. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part look at how poverty affects elder members of the LGBT community and part of a yearlong Blade focus on poverty. To share your ideas or personal story, visit us on Facebook or email Click here to read previous installments.


Today — and every day for the next 16 years — 10,000 baby boomers, members of the generation born between 1946 and 1964, will turn 65, according to the Pew Research Center. About 1.5 million gay, lesbian and bisexual elders in the United States are gay. By 2030, that number is expected to increase to nearly 3 million, according to a report by Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), the Movement Advancement Project and Center for American Progress.

One in six Americans over 65 lives in poverty, according to the Congressional Research Service.

“For LGBT older adults, a lifetime of employment discrimination, among other factors, contribute to disproportionately high poverty rates,” the SAGE website states.

LGBT elders living in or near poverty aren’t just statistics. The Blade interviewed several LGBT elders, aged 50 and older, from St. Louis to Chicago to New York City to Washington, D.C. Here are their stories:

A little peanut butter, maybe some pizza or Ramen noodles is a typical meal for Robyn Sullivan, a 57-year-old transgender woman living in New York City, who struggles to pull together $25 a week for food. In the past, she’s lived in homeless shelters. Now, she lives in a cockroach infested third floor walk-up with four gender non-conforming struggling artists.

“This is the hardest place in the country to live if you don’t make tons of money,” said Sullivan, who suffers from clinical depression and arthritis. “They wanted me to work one day a week for eight hours at a construction site with my limitations to qualify for $190 of food stamps. Working there would be too dangerous.”

Her plight is common among transgender people, Sullivan said. “Dealing with transphobia is nothing I can win at.”

In the 1990s, Sullivan was a skilled software project manager. “I used to make six figures,” she said. “When I was living as a white male professional, I was getting privilege far beyond what any human being deserves. Then I needed to transition and there was the downturn in Silicon Valley.”

After a couple of years, her savings were gone.

“As you go along into poverty, there are things that make people avoid you,” said Sullivan, who now works part-time as a receptionist for SAGE. “I wasn’t hired for a job around the corner from here. They said I wasn’t trustworthy because I lived in a homeless shelter,” she said.

Sullivan encounters not only transphobia but ageism. “When you’re past 50, no company with a retirement plan will hire you,” Sullivan said.

Even with all that she endures, Sullivan says she doesn’t harbor regrets. “When I came out as a trans woman, I felt like I was the woman I was,” she said. “I chose to stop living a lie.  Knowing what I know now, I doubt I would have done anything differently.”

It’s not always been as good for him as it is now, 70-year-old Roger Beyers of Chicago told the Blade. But “nobody ever said, life’s going to be a bed of roses,” he said.

Beyers, who retired at 66 after working for 40 years for Jewel, a Chicago area grocer, is HIV positive.

“My income is less than $12,000 per year,” he said. “My housing is subsidized by Chicago House. Before I was admitted to Chicago House, I was on the verge of homelessness. I’m on Medicare and Medicaid.”

Medicaid pays for his HIV medication, Beyers said. “If I had to pay for it, it would cost $18,000. I couldn’t afford it,” he said. “If it were to collapse, I’d be in a fragile position.”

Though he struggles with issues of economic insecurity, he feels that he’s overcoming some of them, Beyers said. He recently started a part-time internship with the Center on Halsted in Chicago.

“My financial situation has dramatically changed,” Beyers said. “There’s a world of difference between living on Social Security and having money left over at the end of the month.”

For one day a week at the Center, he assists with an HIV counseling hotline. “I love it,” Beyers said. “I can say to an HIV-positive person: ‘I’ve been there, done that and survived it all.’”

He finds strength and joy from his boyfriend Eduardo. “A shout-out for my boyfriend! I may end up marrying this man,” he said.

Mary Paradise, 62, a Capital Pride board member and Washington, D.C. resident, has been looking for work for more than a year. She worked as a nurse for 42 years. Paradise, while working as a health marketing consultant, was laid off due to downsizing. Throughout her job search, she’s often encountered ageism, Paradise said.

“They never say ‘you’re too old.’ They say, ‘we want someone who graduated more recently’ or ‘you’re over qualified,’” she said. “I say to them, ‘you must want someone who’s younger.’”

It gets discouraging, Paradise said. She’s used up her savings and in three months her unemployment benefits will run out, unless Congress extends the benefits. “It gets scary,” Paradise said, “it’s a humbling experience. I’ve worked all my life. For Congress to think I’m lazy is insulting.”

But Paradise is optimistic. She volunteers at her church. “My faith is such that I believe I will be taken care of if I just keep moving forward,” she said. “I have friends who are wonderfully supportive. I have some job leads. Something will come my way that’s a perfect fit.”

Barbara Woodruff, ageism, gay news, Washington Blade

Barbara Woodruff, 64, of St. Louis says she gets by on her $633 Social Security check each month.

Like many baby boomers, Barbara Woodruff, 64, of St. Louis thought that she had plenty of money put away for retirement. But like far too many people, especially lesbians, she found herself with no savings when she reached retirement age, Woodruff said. She gets by on her monthly $633 Social Security check. Fortunately, Woodruff says, she has Medicare and Medicaid.

“Thank God, that paid for my medication when my thyroid went haywire,” she said. “I’m fortunate. I pay $202 in rent for a nice one-bedroom apartment. It’s HUD-subsidized through the Cardinal Ritter Senior Services housing program.”

Woodruff’s partner of 20 years died in a boating accident in 1988. “When she passed, I lost the house. It was in her name. We didn’t think about those things then,” she said.

Over the years, Woodruff has done everything from working in a nursing recruitment office to running, with a business partner, an event designing business to clerking at a convenience store. “You do what you have to do to put food on the table,” she said.

For several years, Woodruff stopped working to take care of her now deceased mother.  “Her Social Security was very little. But I’d do it again,” she said.

Because of her low income, Woodruff doesn’t go out to eat much. “The LGBT community is very supportive here. There’s a great lesbian hangout. I like to see my friends there. I can’t afford to go there now,” she said. “I eat less meat and a lot more fresh fruit and veggies for my health — meat’s expensive.”

Without the social safety net of health insurance and her housing subsidy, she doesn’t know if she’d be alive, Woodruff said.

“I wouldn’t do myself in,” she said. “My friends would make sure I’d have a place to live. I’d be grateful to have a room in their house. But it wouldn’t be my home.”


Kameny to be honored in Chicago history exhibit

Frank Kameny, gay news, Washington Blade

Frank Kameny’s plaque will be exhibited at the Chicago Legacy Walk. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The late D.C. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny will be inducted on Oct. 11, the second anniversary of his death, into Chicago’s Legacy Walk, an outdoor LGBT history exhibit that commemorates the lives of historically significant LGBT people.

Victor Salvo, founder and executive director of the Chicago-based Legacy Project, which operates the Legacy Walk, told the Blade that among the others to be inducted into the exhibit this year along with Kameny is American poet Walt Whitman.

In what some have described as a unique outdoor museum, the Legacy Walk consists of at least 17 25-foot-tall decorative “Rainbow Pylons” placed along a half-mile section of North Halsted Street in Chicago’s Lake View neighborhood, which is known for its high concentration of LGBT residents and visitors.

Attached to each of the pylons are between one or more 18-inch by 24-inch bronze plaques that include a photo image and written description of one of the LGBT people inducted into the Legacy Walk exhibit. Eighteen of the plaques were installed on the pylons in October 2012 in the first phase of the exhibit, according to a write-up on its website. New plaques are to be added each year, with some of the existing ones rotated into an indoor exhibit hall scheduled to open in 2014, the write up says.

“Some of the plaques will commemorate significant events in GLBT history, but most will posthumously memorialize the lives and work of notable gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender individuals whose achievement have helped shape the world – but whose contributions, sexual orientation or gender identity have been overlooked, minimized or censored entirely from most historic texts,” the Legacy Walk website says.

Kameny has been credited with playing a key role in shaping the U.S. LGBT rights movement beginning in the early 1960s as co-founder of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., the city’s first gay rights organization. Kameny became the first known gay person to contest in the federal courts his dismissal from his job as an astronomer for the federal government because of his sexual orientation.

Others inducted into the Legacy Walk in 2012 include African-American civil rights leader Bayard Rustin; writer and novelist James Baldwin; British artificial intelligence researcher Alan Turing; British writer and novelist Oscar Wilde; U.S. lesbian activist and 1960s era gay rights pioneer and Kameny colleague Barbara Gittings; and San Francisco Supervisor and gay rights leader Harvey Milk.


Cerebral jazz

Patricia Barber, jazz, music, gay news, Washington Blade

Patricia Barber wondered early on if coming out would affect her career. She says in the jazz clubs of her native Chicago, it was a non-issue. (Photo by Jimmy Katz)

Patricia Barber Trio
Blues Alley
1073 Wisconsin Ave., N.W.
Friday 8 and 10 p.m.
Saturday 8 and 10 p.m.
Sunday 8 and 10 p.m.

Jazz iconoclast Patricia Barber has a six-show run at Blues Alley slated for this weekend. She’s touring behind her newest album “Smash” (Concord), which was released in January. We spoke with the 57-year-old Chicago resident (and native) by phone last week from her summer home in Michigan. Her comments have been slightly edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: The iPad seems to be increasingly replacing printed scores and lead sheets and I know you use one when you perform. Have you ever had it freeze up or die on you when you’re playing?

PATRICIA BARBER: No, it never has. I always carry a back-up flash drive with all my sheet music on it so at any hotel I could print out anything I needed, but I’ve never had any problem. It saves me a lot of weight. I don’t have to carry all those charts around.


BLADE: Jazz is, of course, more improvisatory than pop. To what degree do you think through your vocal inflections or piano variations before you go on stage versus what happens in the moment?

BARBER: I’ve never given any thought to that. It’s just part of improv. I never give any thought to trying to make it sound like the record. That’s for pop musicians to do. I just have a good sense of harmony and good technique. I practice a lot.


BLADE: Do you spend a lot of time in Michigan?

BARBER: Well, a lot in the summer. I stopped touring in the summer quite a few years ago. It’s just too hot and crowded. I have a big organic garden here. So we feed people, swim in the lake. It’s just wonderful. (Partner) Martha (Feldman) is an academic so she has summers off.


BLADE: Do you hate to leave for your upcoming dates?

BARBER: I get nostalgic but not right now. I’m feeling pretty good. Things have slowed down so it’s not the usual sense of dread I usually feel this time of year.

BLADE: Do you tour with your own piano?

BARBER: No. Most jazz musicians don’t unless it’s some kind of electronic.


BLADE: How do you ensure the quality is going to be where you need it to be?

BARBER: It’s all in the contracts. It’s all very finicky, that it has to be a certain quality type and tuning.


BLADE: How many of the players who travel with you played on “Smash”?

BARBER: Two out of the four. We’re sort of mixing it up. It doesn’t mean they weren’t good.


BLADE: Obviously you love music but I also sense some ambivalence about your musical career in other interviews you’ve given. Is that fair to say? You seem to have a love-hate relationship with the whole thing.

BARBER: My recording career, no. That’s fun and easy. Touring is very difficult so yeah, I think you hit it right on the head. Well, let me re-phrase that. Certainly not this sweet little tour to D.C. or a 10-day tour to Europe. But I’m pretty much done with the grueling 12-hour spans getting to a city.


BLADE: Now that “Smash” has been out for a while and had time to gestate, how do you feel about it? Is it hard to assess how well something worked when you’re still close to it? Has it been hard to find a way for it to live in a live setting?

BARBER: I still love it. I don’t know that my feelings have changed at all. I’m still finding ways to transpose, as you put it, to the stage. With jazz, you can’t stick to one performance so I’m purposefully trying not to sound like the recording. It’s interesting what you can do with a quartet vs. a trio. It’s slightly different each time. But I’m still in love with it.


BLADE: Is “Devil’s Food” a political statement?

BARBER: It’s my first gay song … It’s definitely coming from the DOMA political situation. That whole court case was coming up and my feelings about it. It isn’t obviously gay until you’re listening to it. It’s fun to watch people’s faces because it turns into a disco song. Jazz is usually very serious but this is just gay fun.


BLADE: Do you feel the press has focused too much on your sexual orientation throughout your career?

BARBER: Yes. It’s the first thing on Wikipedia. I’m a lesbian jazz musician. To me, that’s not a category but OK. I’m hoping as we’ve all grown older that being gay continues becoming just part of the normal fabric of everything and people will focus on the music more but you have to remember years ago, we weren’t anywhere close to where we are now on that.


BLADE: You were out pretty early on though. Were you just pretty much organically out or was it a conscious decision at some point to be out?

BARBER: I had a whole issue with that. I was working at a pretty famous club in Chicago that was very popular. We had lines around the block and I worked there six nights a week with a trio. And yeah, at the beginning — this was many, many years ago — I wondered if they would have hired me if I’d been out. It was such a hetero scene there so I definitely worried about it but then I came out to my boss and … he thought it was sexy and kind of cool in a sort of perverted way. But it hasn’t ended up affecting my audience at all. They’ve always been mixed — straight, gay, black, white, young, old.


BLADE: You’re playing six shows in D.C. Is it designed to be something people can see over a few nights or is it pretty much the same show?

BARBER: I don’t expect that people would see it twice. That would be unusual. It will pretty much be the same set.


BLADE: Do jazz fans bring expectations with them the way people expect pop acts to always do certain hits?

BARBER: I think they want to hear stuff from “Smash” and they sometimes have old favorites they want to hear. Sometimes they send me notes. If it’s easy to do, sure, I’ll do it. I have a huge repertoire by now. I’m happy to try it if I can or if I just want to sit and play “Autumn Leaves” for an hour and a half, I’ll do that.


Chicago AIDS group seeks to streamline treatment

AIDS Foundation of Chicago, HIV/AIDS, gay news, Washington Blade

The AIDS Foundation of Chicago brought together leaders from more than 40 organizations in Cook County to shape a strategic plan.

CHICAGO — The AIDS Foundation of Chicago recently published a report that details a plan to house and better coordinate health care for people who are homeless, diagnosed with at least one severe mental illness, and have a history of alcohol or substance use, the Windy City Times reported.

Under the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Chicago Community Consortium, the Foundation brought together leaders from more than 40 organizations in Cook County to shape this strategic plan, the paper reported. It focuses on “strong cross-sector collaboration” to “present a roadmap for tackling the human and financial costs of homelessness” in the region, one of the report’s authors said in a statement.

Public services for one person who is homeless can cost Cook County and the City of Chicago as much as $100,000 per year. Integrating supportive housing and health services has been proven to alleviate suffering while saving taxpayers millions, the Windy City Times reported.


Henry Gerber: Ahead of his time

Henry Gerber, Society for Human Rights, gay news, Washington Blade

Henry Gerber started a gay rights group in Chicago in 1924.




On May 15, 1871, the German Criminal Code was revised to include Paragraph 175, a law making sexual acts between males illegal. The first challenge to the law came in 1897 when Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld founded the gay organization Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee (Scientific-Humanitarian Committee). Its first action was to draft a petition against Paragraph 175 with 6,000 signatures of prominent people in the arts, politics and the medical profession; it failed to have any effect.

One American inspired by the work of Hirschfeld was Henry Gerber, who in 1924 was granted an official charter by the state of Illinois for the Society for Human Rights, the first gay-rights organization in the United States, which he ran from his home on Crilly Court in Chicago.

Gerber was born Josef Henry Dittmar on June 29, 1892, in Passau, Bavaria, Germany. On Oct. 27, 1913, Gerber (still called Dittmar at the time) arrived at New York’s Ellis Island on the SS George Washington and then traveled west to Chicago, where he worked briefly for Montgomery Ward’s mail-order house. His first known address in the United States was 507 Stone St., Joliet, Ill., from where he enlisted in the Army on Jan. 26, 1914. In his military documents, he described himself as 5-foot-7 and one-half, 180 pounds, with blue eyes and brown hair. He changed his name to Gerber afterward — though he was still using the name Joseph Henry Dittmar on his June 5, 1917, draft registration card, which described him as 5-foot-8, slender, with blue eyes and blond hair. On it, he mentioned prior military service but now claimed exemption on grounds of conscientious objection to war.

On April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany, and the newspapers became filled with lurid tales of German spies. As a result, the United States opened internment camps; 50,000 unnaturalized aliens of German birth were now “alien enemies,” and 8,000 were detained using presidential arrest warrants. Gerber was “offered internment,” which he accepted, as it guaranteed three meals a day. After the war, he re-enlisted in the Army on Oct. 2, 1919, at Jefferson Barracks, near Lemay, Mo., a training and recruitment center for soldiers being sent to fight in Europe, or, in Gerber’s case, to join a regiment of the American Forces in Germany, where he was part of a company engaged in publishing the daily AMAROC News for troops.

It was while serving in Koblenz that Gerber found Hirschfeld’s Scientific-Humanitarian Committee. He wrote later: “In Coblenz on the Rhine, I had subscribed to German homophile magazines and made several trips to Berlin, which was then not occupied by American forces. I had always bitterly felt the injustice with which my own American society accused the homosexual of ‘immoral acts.’

“What could be done about it, I thought. Unlike Germany, where the homosexual was partially organized and where sex legislation was uniform for the whole country, the United States was in a condition of chaos and misunderstanding concerning its sex laws, and no one was trying to unravel the tangle and bring relief to the abused.”

Gerber returned to Chicago, took up residence at 1710 N. Crilly Ct. and began work for the Post Office Department. In the spring of 1924, he formed SHR with a handful of friends. Gerber’s strategy was to network and gain support from other “sex reform” leaders, including Margaret Sanger, the American birth-control advocate, but nobody seemed interested. Undeterred, he decided to go it alone. Through a lawyer, SHR applied for and received a charter from the state of Illinois on Dec. 10, 1924. It is thought the group never had more than 10 members. Gerber elected himself secretary; president was the Rev. John T. Graves, “a preacher who preached brotherly love to small groups of Negroes”; vice president was Al Meininger, an “indigent laundry queen”; and treasurer was Ralph Ellsworth Booher, whose job with a railroad was threatened when his homosexuality became known. Throughout the rest of his life, Gerber lamented that SHR failed to attract “men of good reputation.” In Germany, the homophile movement included enlightened politicians, doctors and scientists, as well as those in the arts, but in the United States nobody was willing to stick a neck out for homosexuals.

Gerber produced two issues of the SHR newsletter Friendship and Freedom, of which no known copies exist, although in “Paris Gay 1925” (1981), a French book co-written by Gilles Barbedette and Michel Carassou, is reprinted a review of Friendship and Freedom, written by Clarens and published in the magazine L’amitié in 1925. (See this author’s “Chicago Whispers: A History of LGBT Chicago Before Stonewall” for translation.)

The SHR was short-lived. In July 1925, the group was raided and the headline in the Chicago Examiner read “Strange Sex Cult Exposed.” Even though the case was thrown out of court, Gerber was suspended from the post office.

After the demise of SHR, Gerber became despondent about homosexuals. He later wrote, “I have absolutely no confidence in the Dorian crowd, mostly a bunch of selfish, uncultured, ignorant egoists who have nothing for the ideal side of life.” Gerber re-enlisted in the Army, serving another 17 years; in 1945, he retired with an honorable discharge and a $100-a-month pension. As late as 1942, his primary World War II draft registration was still under the name Joseph H. Dittmar, though the records also contain a cross-reference from the name Henry Gerber; by then, “Gerber” appears to have been how he was known to the military.

Gerber spent his twilight years in the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home in Washington, D.C., where he died from pneumonia on Dec. 31, 1972, age 80.

Gerber was posthumously inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Henry Gerber House, located at 1710 N. Crilly Ct., was designated a Chicago Landmark on June 1, 2001.

The above article is an abbreviated version of the chapter “Henry Gerber and the German Sex Reformers” in St. Sukie de la Croix’s book “Chicago Whispers: A History of LGBT Chicago Before Stonewall,” published in 2012 by the University of Wisconsin Press.


Gay couple sues taxi company

Steven White, Matthew McCrea, kiss, discrimination, gay news, Washington Blade

Steven White and Matthew McCrea (Image via YouTube)

CHICAGO—Lambda Legal on Oct. 28 filed a lawsuit on behalf of a gay couple who said a cab driver forced them to leave his car after they kissed.

The LGBT advocacy group said in a press release that Steven White and Matthew McCrea on May 30 entered a Sun Taxi cab at O’Hare International Airport. The men claim the driver pulled over onto the shoulder of a Chicago expressway after they “exchanged a brief kiss” and demanded they get out of the taxi in spite of heavy traffic and rain.

Lambda Legal said the driver pulled over on a Chicago expressway after the couple “exchanged a brief kiss” and demanded they get out, even though it was raining.

White and McCrea said they refused to leave the cab. The lawsuit says the driver then drove to the nearest exit, stopped at a parking lot and once again demanded they get out of the cab.

White and McCrea said the 311 operator with whom they were initially speaking transferred them to 911 – and a responding police officer waited with them until another taxi picked them up.

“When the driver demanded that we get out of the cab, I was afraid,” McCrea said.

Christopher Clark, senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal, said the alleged incident is a violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodation.


Quite likely the least effective argument against gay marriage, ever (video)

Homophobe, upset that Illinois just legalized gay marriage, goes nuts on presumed-lesbian on CTA public bus.


Going for the Gold

Chris Coates, track, athlete, gay news, Gay Games, Washington Blade

Chris Coates, a D.C. track athlete planning to compete in the Gay Games next summer in Ohio. (Photo courtesy Kevin Majoros)

It has been more than four years since Washington lost the Gay Games 9 bid to Cleveland/Akron and the sting of that loss has faded. Now it’s time to seriously start thinking about your plans to go to Cleveland for the Gay Games to be held Aug. 9-16.

Cleveland? Akron?

I’ve been hearing a lot of rumbling in the LGBT sports community locally and nationally about the location of the Games. People are asking, “Why would I want to go to Cleveland or Akron?”

What’s in it for you and why should you attend? For those of you who’ve participated at the Games in the past, you know the reasons. For those of you who’ve not, I will supply a few.

The LGBT sports movement has been experiencing a great amount of support and progression over the past few years. The media will be in Cleveland on a large scale and this is our opportunity to shine as athletes and support our community.

I remember in 2006 when USA Today ran a cover story about the Chicago Gay Games and I was pleasantly surprised. During and after the Games, I didn’t see a lot of coverage. I think that will be different this time because the LGBT sports community now has a larger presence.

Paris recently won the bid for Gay Games 10 in 2018. If the Cleveland/Akron Games fail, there will be no Paris. While it’s true that the Gay Games received a $250,000 grant from the Cleveland Foundation as a presenting sponsor (a first for the Games), if attendance is poor, it will hamper the efforts to fund the Paris Games.

According to Les Johnson, a Federation of Gay Games board member, Cleveland and Akron are excited about us coming.

“Washington D.C. has big things happening here all the time,” Johnson says. “The Gay Games are a really big thing for both Cleveland and Akron and they are looking forward to hosting us.”

There will be more than 35 sports contested in Cleveland and Akron and the sports venues are top notch, from the Cleveland State aquatic facility to the Firestone Stadium softball venue to the University of Akron track & field stadium. This is an opportunity to compete at well-run facilities with experienced officials.

You might be thinking that Cleveland doesn’t have a large gay scene. That’s true, but what do you think happens when 10,000 LGBT athletes from more than 65 countries invade a town for eight days? It becomes very gay.

You’ll see the LGBT community in force at restaurants, bars, tourist attractions and especially on public transport. At the past few Games I’ve met most of my cohorts for the week on public transport.

One of the popular features from the Cologne Games in 2010 and a personal favorite of mine were the athlete villages. Every day after competing, thousands of athletes and supporters converge on the villages for music, dancing, drinking, food and people watching. Dinner with the Icelandic swim team, beers with the Irish soccer team — what more can you ask for?

Another thing to be excited about is marching into the opening ceremonies with 10,000 athletes from all over the world. The Cleveland/Akron Games will open at the Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland. The Arena is home to the Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Assocaiton, the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League and the Cleveland Gladiators of the Arena Football League.

Team D.C. is expecting to send more than 400 athletes from our LGBT sports community. Team D.C. will once again coordinate the uniforms and will march in together representing Washington behind the District flag and the Team D.C. banner. We always get a huge response.

Based on what I’ve heard so far, we will be represented in the sports of swimming, water polo, softball, soccer, flag football, tennis, running, triathlon, bowling, cycling, basketball, dancesport, open water swimming, volleyball and track & field.

The closing ceremonies will be held at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in downtown Cleveland and represents the last chance to hang out with all the new friends you made during the week.

Team D.C. is offering a discounted registration price for the Gay Games which ends Jan. 8.  The code is “teamdc.”

What are you waiting for? Eight days of sports, music and world culture are calling your name.


Gay country singer Steve Grand sends video viral

Steve Grand, All American Boy, Country Music, Gay News, Washington Blade

‘All-American Boy’ by Steve Grand features a gay man who skinny-dips with his straight friend. (Screen capture via Youtube)

CHICAGO—A gay country singer’s first music video has received more than 840,000 views since he posted it to YouTube on July 2.

The video for “All-American Boy” by Steve Grand features a gay man who skinny-dips with his straight friend while they are on a camping trip. The two men briefly kiss, but the straight man playfully rejects his advance.

Grand told ABC News on July 9 his song is “about that longing for someone” as opposed to “about being gay.”

“I wrote it from the most [pure] genuine place of my soul,” he said.

Some gay rights advocates have criticized Grand’s video for depicting a scenario they say could prompt anti-gay violence.

“Maybe Grand figures that his fellow gays will be too distracted by the video’s lascivious preoccupation with his pouty lips and sculpted abs to notice that,” Mark S. King wrote on the Bilerico Project on July 8. “As portrayed here, he is one false move away from some serious gay bashing.”