LGBTQ History at Town Hall Apartments

One of the best ways to overcome intolerance is through exposure to different people and viewpoints. Up until very recently, prejudice and stigma have kept large swaths of our society silent. This LGBTQ History month, we chose to speak with some of the LGBTQ elders living at our Town Hall Apartments – the first ever LGBTQ-friendly affordable housing development in Chicago – about their own lives, experiences, and accomplishments.

Rick
Thomas
William

 

Thomas G on the Mattachine Society

Thomas Gertz was born and raised in Chicago, and he has been a Town Hall resident since it opened. A professor of sexology, Thomas has been teaching about human sexual behavior and fighting to normalize LGBTQ lifestyles since the 1970’s.

On the Mattachine Society

Thomas has been very open with who he was from a very early age. His fearless, honest nature made him a perfect fit as an advocate for the LGBTQ scene. In the 1970’s, he was a leader in one of the oldest LGBTQ formal scenes in Chicago – the Mattachine Society.

“I remember picking up a Mattachine Society magazine at a young age, and got involved with the Chicago branch very quickly. Mattachine means a role played behind a mask, and back then we were all hiding behind masks – but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t open about who I was. We were on radio and tv, and we held educational services for social workers and hospitals. We had to educate the people about who we were as we fought against stigma.”

“And it was a real fight. In those early days, we had to fight to just find a place to meet, to be around other gay people. We were thankful for places like the ACLU – and even for our Alderman Tom Tunney, because we were welcome at his restaurants. Being welcome is an incredibly important feeling, and it’s hard to know that until you don’t have it.”

“We also had a running phone hotline where volunteers would connect people with services – lawyers or other referrals – for when they got into crisis.”

On LGBTQ Education

Thomas kept that same passion for advocacy when he went to college, eventually becoming a Ph.D. in sexology. Using the college system as a tool to shed light on vulnerable people, he fought to normalize LGBTQ perspectives.

“I realized during a meeting with my therapist that I was actually educating him – an actual clinician – on the gay lifestyle, and I knew I had to do more to help people like me.”

“Throughout my life as a teacher, people would come to me unsure about their own tendencies, because nobody was given the chance to be open about themselves. That’s what stigma does. You know, a lot of people think that gender fluidity is a new concept – it’s not. I spent a lot of time with people back in the 1970’s, people who did not feel like their bodies reflected who they were on the inside. This was 40 years ago!”

“Today, I hope we celebrate who we are and what we’ve got.”

On Town Hall Apartments

Thomas was a Dean for a school in San Francisco up until a decade ago, when an accident impaired his mobility. For a while, he stayed on the west coast with the help of an in-home assistant,  but Thomas knew he wanted to move.

“I really wanted to get back to Chicago, I wanted to be home. The folks at Heartland Housing were ready to go the extra mile for me. They were very welcoming and really wanted to make sure I could move in with little difficulty”

“I love the openness here. You have a community, and you can share exactly what you want. We have potlucks, and we all gather just to be together. You know, in the 1960’s you would never have thought that a place like this could even happen. I’m very lucky to get to live here.”

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Rick M. on Stonewall & the AIDS Crisis

Rick Medici moved to Chicago in 1996, looking for a change of pace after having lost far too many friends in New York City to the AIDS crisis. Almost a decade later, he was one of the first individuals to move into Town Hall Apartments, one of our senior housing properties where many LGBTQ residents find safety and community. Now 73 years old, Rick has lived as a teacher, a dancer, a musician, and an activist.

On Stonewall and Being Gay in the 1950’s and 1960’s

Rick came out to his family at 14 years old. As a teenager, he moved from his family home to New York City – where he lived most of his life. Even in the most vibrant and diverse metropolis in the world, life as a gay man was still difficult.

“There was always a lot of harassment. From people, from the police. You had to hide who you were and watch who you were around. It was hard to meet people like you without being harassed.”

“Stonewall Tavern was one of the only places that was out in the open, and so it was picked out by the police all of the time. Then, in 1969, the cops came in to raid the place and most of the people were sick and tired of this – especially, the drag queens. They started fighting back, and we followed their lead.”

“People don’t realize that the riots went on for days and it took over blocks all around. There was a lot of anger, and it was time we would be heard. The riots provided a sense of great relief. We decided it was time to be free and to be who we were.”

“You know, the Stonewall Riots was just one revolutionary moment in the 1960’s. That time was all about revolution – from the free love movement, to Martin Luther King Jr..”

On the AIDS Crisis

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, Rick lost many friends. He remembers when he first got sick, and just how draining it was to try various drugs that were meant to keep him alive. Rick considers himself very fortunate to have found the protease inhibitor cocktail that would allow him to be healthy and allow him to work.

“There was a brief period of time where we all truly felt free. There was this decade that came right after Stonewall and just before the AIDS crisis where it seemed like we won the revolution. But when the crisis came, we all had to go back into the closet.”

“It was so scary. You know, it took until the 1990s for people to actually recognize AIDS as a specific disease. People used to just call it ‘gay cancer’ – and it’s hard to live that sort of stigma down. I remember there even being a time where other gay people were afraid of folks living with AIDS, and even at the beginning we had to educate and advocate ourselves to fight stigma. It was a real revelation when society started to address the crisis and address us.”

On Town Hall

Rick has been with Heartland Alliance since 2014. His one-bedroom apartment provides space for his piano, and the affordable support services that allow him to live without the fear of instability. Most importantly, staff and residents at Town Hall Apartments give him the welcoming comfort that all homes should provide.

“Moving to Town Hall made my life so much easier. Being able to live in a place where rent was based on my income allows me to shift my concerns to my health, rather than my finances.”

“I love spending time in these public spaces and having community. There’s 79 people who live here – and we come from all walks of life, not just the LGBTQ community. We’re all very supportive of each other here.”

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William W. on Coming Out in Chicago

William Warren has been a resident of Heartland Housing since 2008. He was first a resident of The Leland Apartments in Uptown and then in 2016, he became a resident of Town Hall. William grew up in rural Illinois, and knew at a young age that he needed to be somewhere livelier. He moved to Chicago for art school, and has never looked back since.

LGBTQ Life in 1970s Rural Illinois

William knew from a pretty early age that he needed to find community that supported who he was. He always saw Chicago as that space.

“You know, a lot of us come to the cities to be ourselves. I remember I was outed by my own family, and there wasn’t much support at the time. Coming here was a matter of freedom. I could be artistic, I could find people like me, and you just couldn’t do that back home. I met a lot of us that grew up in the sticks, and we found a haven here in the city, we found refuge here.”

“You know, that’s one of the reasons why you see such strong communities in big places. We’re all sort of drawn to something bigger, and we come from all over to find that community.”

Coming Out in Chicago

William has always been an artist, and he found a place to thrive in Chicago’s LGBTQ scene. A jack of all trades, William found work where he could tap into his artistic ambitions at places like the Village Green Garden Center – a notable gay-owned business in Chicago. He spent much of his time in the Boystown neighborhood, where he currently resides.

“It was the 1970’s when I came out, you know ten years after Stonewall. It was a great time to come out, because a lot of the pressure had dissipated. But there was still a lot of harassment that would go on – police intimidation and all of that.”

 “Boystown – this place is important to all of us. Up and down this street, this was my street all these years. I’ve made a lot of friends here, and I’ve lost friends here.”

On Town Hall Apartments

William was on the waiting list for Town Hall Apartments for two years. William was nothing short of elated, when he received the call to move into the first ever LGBTQ-friendly affordable housing development.

“Getting the call to move in was like winning the lottery. You know, this place is an oasis for us seniors. Even as I’m older now, I get to be a part of the community. I have a roof over my head, and I get to be safe and cared for. We’re watched over by the community – by Heartland, by the Center on Halsted. I can’t ask for anything better.”

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Honoring our Humanitarians

From people with disabilities to the elderly; from migrants to journalists; all people caught in conflict, facing hunger, or being discriminated against deserve access to equity and opportunity. This World Humanitarian Day, we recognize our friends who stand with the most vulnerable around the globe by sharing their thoughts and concerns about the daily fight against injustice.

Dr. Zaher Sahloul
Rodney
Bob

 

Tree Lane: Building Family Through Housing

At the time that Elector was interviewed for this story, she was sitting on her own wrap-around couch in her own four-bedroom apartment. The kids were all at school, Elector was folding laundry and boiling some water for dinner that night. Once dinner was prepared and the interview was finished, the day’s work would only be starting for Elector. In just a couple of hours there would be homework at the kitchen table, and young ones to help guide into the future.

Elector has called Madison home since she was six years old. Her parents brought her family up from Arkansas back in the 70s, and ever since she’s always seen her hometown as a land of opportunity. She works hard to ensure that is the case for her children as well.

“I have four girls and one boy, and my son has money saved for Madison Area Technical College. He’s not even in 8th grade, and he already has a path toward his secondary education. There’s a lot of hope here.”

Here in Madison, Elector is confident that her children are receiving a quality education. A single mother of five, she spends most of her days making sure everyone is ready for the next day’s lessons. She’s reviewed countless essays, spent hours own worksheets, and written out reams of flash cards over the past decade.

To her, it’s all worth the effort. There’s a future in this town for her and her children, and she’s not leaving that opportunity for anything. Even when her family fell onto hard times and into homelessness five years ago, Elector held that hope for the future close to her heart.

“Everybody thinks that people want to live in a shelter for free. They think that we enjoy free heat, free food, and a free place to say. But trying to raise a family like that is not easy or free – it’s more work than you can imagine.”

For Elector’s kids, nightly homework sessions don’t stop if there isn’t a kitchen table to sit at. There’s still work to be done – and whether they were sleeping on the floor of a friend’s apartment or staying at a local shelter, Elector’s family was putting in the time. Work sheets and essays still had to be finished, no matter the circumstances.

“Raising your family while homeless means you can’t eat what you want or cook what you want. You have to be on someone else’s schedule, your kids have to constantly be protected. Waiting and hoping to see if you have a room for your family every night, trusting that your stuff will be taken care of when you step away, and making sure their ready for the next day, you’re in a messed up situation.”

So when Heartland Housing’s new Tree Lane Apartments were built on Madison’s west side, Elector was almost too busy to care. The new permanent supportive housing initiative was opening 45 new apartments for moms and families just like Electors, but she was far too concerned with her day to day struggle to pay attention.

“I remember the guys at Heartland had to bug me multiple times to come and see the place. I was still skeptical that one of these apartments could actually go to my family. I just thought we couldn’t actually have something like this.”

But just as the school year was about to ramp back up, the family moved into a four bedroom, two bathroom apartment. The in-unit washer-dryer and full-sized kitchen gives Elector the chance to get all of her mom responsibilities without worry. The kids have a hassle-free journey to school and back now that they aren’t in a shelter, and Elector gets to watch them walk to the bus from her window. Sometimes she’ll see them walking home from the same vantage point, and she knows it’s time to put on her homework cap.

“My kids absorb everything. The school system has been a good tool for them. Now, to have steady housing, steady school districts, and everyone in my family working as a team – it’s given us the opportunity to grow. Now I have people outside of my family that work as part of my team.”
Now, the school year is nearing the final quarter. The kids will soon have some time off, and their own rooms to enjoy for the first time in five years. It will be the first moment of respite for her and her children in half a decade.
“This place, my place, this gives me hope. I thought I would never have the chance to live in a place this beautiful. There was no way that I could afford this rent and take care of my kids at the same time. You guys gave us the best opportunity in Madison.”
For Elector and her family, hard work has paid off. Elector takes pride in the struggles she and her children survived, and she’s even happier to prove to her family that this city is the land of opportunity her parents thought it was.
“Now I get to tell my kids ‘see I told you something good was going to happen to us.’ I can tell them to never give up because good things do happen.”

Volunteer Spotlight: Tony B on Service, Giving, and Doing

History teacher, veteran, community advocate, philanthropist, Tony Busalacchi wears many hats. Now in his 80s, Tony is most proud of two monikers in particular: artist and volunteer.

“This work – and more importantly the outcomes – is most gratifying, and it’s very humbling. There’s a service organization called The Christophers, and they say that’s it’s better to light one little candle than to curse the dark. I felt that this was a situation where we could lite a little candle. We didn’t realize that so many other candles would be lit at the same time.”

Tony is referencing his most recent service project, a series of self-produced and curated art projects that he has since sold to raise funds for Heartland Housing’s most recent permanent supportive housing development, St. Anthony Place.

St. Anthony’s hospital was built in 1931 in downtown Milwaukee, and Tony was born there in 1933. Born and raised in the community, Tony and his wife Pat have been longtime supporters of homeless services providers in the area for years. When he heard that the old abandoned hospital was to be converted into housing for the homeless, Tony knew he wanted to help.

“I’m a Korean War veteran, and for 11 years I would volunteer at the VA hospital in town. I would meet men and women that were really down and out, from physical wounds or emotional wounds. I feel that this housing project provided a dignified way for people to live.”

A painter, sculptor, and curator, Tony had created and collected dozens of art pieces over the years. Tony and Pat decided to sell their prized possessions, with the money raised going to furnish the 60 new homes. The couple had hoped to raise three or four thousand dollars with the fundraiser – but the event quickly went viral, with buyers from around the globe participating. Before they knew it, the Busalacchis had raised over $40,000 for the residents of St. Anthony Place.

Tony and Pat’s service have continued since the fundraiser. At the grand opening for St. Anthony Place, the couple was proud to show off numerous art pieces throughout the new development. Hanging from the ceiling of the St. Anthony Place meditation room is a metal mobile, hand crafted by Tony himself to commemorate the struggle of those who have had to endure life on the streets.

“One has to be very careful about the circumstances of another individual. This is an outright gift to be a part of such a great moment, and we are just proud to have a chance to give back.”

Above and beyond their fundraiser, Tony and Pat continue to find ways to help the new residents of St. Anthony Place. Pat has been holding donation drives, collecting clothing, toiletries, diapers, and the like. For their birthdays, the couple has organized smaller fundraisers with their family and friends – and they don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. For Tony, none of the titles matter – it’s all about the action that counts.

“My personal hero is St Francis of Assisi. He gave a sermon not of words, but of action. To me, a hero is a do-er. Giving, first and foremost, is about doing. It’s about action.”

Poverty Awareness Month

January is Poverty Awareness Month, a month-long initiative to raise awareness and call attention to the growth of poverty in America. For 130 years we’ve been fighting to end poverty by creating equity and opportunity. This entire month, we’ve been talking about how and why poverty continues to impact so many of us around the globe.

From housing and healthcare, to education and opportunity – Heartland Alliance’s pillars of focus are how we help individuals achieve success – they’re also constantly under attack by inequity.

Housing

Housing is fundamental to exiting poverty. Without the safety, stability, and comfort of a home, achieving other markers of success – through education, employment, and wealth building – is much more difficult. In 2015, 38 percent of all “renter households” were rent burdened – and 17 percent of renter households that are severely rent burdened—spending 50 percent or more of monthly income on rent.

There are housing components in each of our five companies, providing either emergency, transitional, or permanent supportive housing to individuals as a foundational part of their success. For Heartland Housing residents Geraldine and her daughter Pryesha, the safety and stability of their Milwaukee apartment have led to very real successes – hear their story.

Health

Poverty is increasingly linked to disparities in life expectancy. Low-income Americans have higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other chronic conditions, compared to higher-income Americans. Further, poor health also contributes to reduced income, creating a cycle often referred to as the health-poverty trap.

Heartland Alliance Health has been providing healthcare access to some of Chicago’s hardest to reach populations for over three decades. Most recently, our new south side health center has helped us serve hundreds more in the Englewood neighborhood. See how this has impacted families.

Education

Nearly 70 percent of adults having less than $1,000 in their savings accounts, and almost a third of all Americans without any savings at all. Ending poverty will require that individuals have the capacity to build real wealth, and not just live paycheck to paycheck.

Our Asset Building program connects individuals to resources and education that many today never receive – learning how to build and maintain savings and wealth. See how some of our most recent Asset Building graduates feel about their financial futures in this piece.

Opportunity

Poverty can impact the ability to obtain employment – but it can also force people to stay in jobs where they are unsafe, mistreated or take advantage of.

When individuals don’t have access to employment that is fair and based in human rights, they can fall further into poverty. Income from work improves access to the necessities of life – and we must work to create a society where no one has to choose between their dignity or their paycheck. See Isabel’s story to learn more about how fair treatment in the workplace is a crucial part of ending and keeping people out poverty.

Safety

Violence and poverty often flourish under the same circumstances, including lack of access to jobs, inadequate investment in public services, poor health conditions, lack of educational opportunities, and more.

Poor households nationwide experience violence at the highest rates, regardless of whether they’re in urban, suburban, or rural areas. Addressing poverty is a key part of ending violence. By bettering underlying quality of life conditions— we can ensure that every person has an adequate standard of living, free from poverty and violence.

Read Tevin’s story to see the impact of second chances. His experience shows that when we give people real opportunity when they return from incarceration, they can not only rebuild their own lives but bring hope to communities.

Justice

There are 4.1 million adults in Illinois alone who have a criminal record. In the US there are an estimated 50,000 collateral consequences for those who have been justice involved – meaning they have been restricted from housing, employment, education and other opportunities that help lift individuals out of poverty.

About 30,000 people leave Illinois prisons every year, and nearly half of them return within three years. Making it easier for ex-offenders to work by removing these collateral consequences, would reduce recidivism and increase equity and opportunity. We ALL deserve the opportunity to provide for ourselves and obtain opportunity. For years, as a member of the Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois (RROCI), Heartland Alliance’s Policy team has been working closely with anti poverty agencies across the state to increase opportunity for ex-offenders by allowing them better access to education and jobs.

Our policy team’s Quentin Williams has been leading the charge to help those living post-incarceration find real justice – through hope and opportunity. See his ideas in this Spotlight on Poverty piece.

You’ve Got to Give Back: Tom’s Story

“When I was at my lowest, there were people – complete strangers – that believed in me. They really went to bat for me. I was, literally, the luckiest man in the world.”

Sometimes, perspective is everything. For Tom Church, living on the streets of Milwaukee changed not only how he sees homelessness – it changed his belief in people and service. Today, his happiest holiday moments happen when he brings his friends and family together to buy presents for low-income families through our Stuff a Stocking campaign.

Before homelessness, Tom’s life as a division manager for a sales department seemed unshakable. He was successful, independent, and at the top of his game. But just as is it with most of us, one or two speed bumps down can send you careening off what you thought was your path to happiness. For Tom, that speed bump involved addiction. Soon enough, Tom’s habits lost him his job, his home, and most of his relationships.

“It was miserable. I had the toughest time trying to find cash around the city to get loaded and find an empty place to sleep in winter.”

After a number of years on the streets, Tom did find hope – but he needed a little help. A number of social services throughout Milwaukee – including Heartland Alliance – that helped him find sobriety, healthcare, even a home. Tom recognized just how crucial it was for strangers to care about him – a concept that was solidified in his mind after a heart attack that left him clinically dead for almost an hour.

“If it weren’t for these people, I wouldn’t be here today. In every sense of the word, I have owe my life to people who didn’t give up on me.”

And so today, with a home and a future ahead of him, Tom is giving back. Tom is working with his friends and family to donate gifts and stuff stockings to two families at our Maskani Place housing program in Milwaukee.

“Ever since I got back on my own, I knew I had to give back. I’ve got a couple of extra bucks, and I know what it’s like when you have nothing. You’ve got to give back.”

Gerard Campbell of Heartland Housing

Gerard Campbell has been working as our Wisconsin Property Manager for Heartland Housing for half a decade now. He believes in the transformational power of a home, and has dedicated his life to ensuring that for others.

1. What got you into this work?

I’ve been driven to help people who are vulnerable housed for a very long time now. When I was 9 or 10 years old, we lived in a divided community in Ireland. I was one of a few families in my hometown that was burned out of our homes because of our beliefs. We were forced out of town, and we were left homeless for some time. Ever since, I’ve been determined to live and work for social justice.

I used to work for an agency that had been working with and learning from Heartland Alliance. There was a whole delegation of nonprofit officials and government leaders who were trying to find solutions for a growing problem in our city – homelessness and mental health issues. We came down to Chicago looking to develop some new programs to help individuals experiencing homelessness, and Heartland Alliance inspired all of us. They’re permanent supportive housing models provided opportunities for people to grow and find self-sufficiency.  A few years later, when it was time to start looking to broaden my horizons, I came directly here.

2. Why is this work important to the community, and to the people we serve?

There’s just such a high need in Madison and Milwaukee for affordable housing. The cost of living is high and rising, and I think there’s an ongoing struggle for folks living week to week and month to month.There’s just not as much opportunity to live in an affordable place. That roof over your head provides so much more than just shelter – it provides opportunity, safety, and a better outlook on life.

In the long run, the housing we develop creates so much more for the entire community. It creates hope.

3. Was there a moment where you KNEW you were in a job that was right for you?

We were serving a family – a mom and her young kids – that had fled a violent domestic situation. I remember they had been staying from hotel to hotel for some time, which is a very unstable way to grow up. We ended up finding a unit that worked well for them at one of our Milwaukee sites, and I remember one of the little ones saying, “Mom, I know it’s not a hotel, but I think we should make this place our next home.”

Those children had spent so much time living sporadically that it seemed normal to them. The mom went on to find work and become independent, and they ended up finding some real stability. That’s what permanent housing should be.

4. What is your favorite part of your job?

I enjoy handing off the keys. I’ve been with Heartland Housing for five years now, and I still get so excited when I get to hand over the keys to a newly housed person or family. I know how important it is for these folks, to have a chance to call a place home. With all of the hours I put in, all of the hard work that comes with the job – this is what it’s all about.

5. How can others help your work?

It really does take a village. If we aren’t in this together and pulling in the same direction, we aren’t going to be successful. Supportive housing is really just one part of the puzzle to end poverty and provide stability. All community members are needed to make this successful.