“Go ahead, animals,” Alderman George Hagopian shouted to the audience. It was the tumultuous City Council session in which aldermen were to vote on Chicago’s controversial Human Rights Ordinance. Hagopian was addressing himself to the mostly gay and lesbian audience on the east side of the room, but in his homophobic fervor he failed to notice that the snickers and laughter were coming mostly from his council colleagues.
Lesbian and gay leaders had instructed supporters of the ordinance to remain silent during negative speeches, no matter how vicious, and for the most part the crowd obeyed. But a cadre of aldermen–in fact a mix of yes and no votes including Richard Mell, Terry Gabinski, Joe Kotlarz, and Ed Burke–couldn’t help but find Hagopian’s opinions just a little ridiculous.
When Burke finally got up to express his support for the ordinance–a surprise to most reporters but a public secret in the gay and lesbian community–he was much more serious. “I’ve never seen such emotional testimony in the council,” he said.
But Burke came late to the process. Had he attended either of the two days of public testimony on the “gay rights ordinance”–June 15 and 23 before the Human Rights and Consumer Protection Commission–he would have seen hatred in full emotional bloom.
The summer hearings began before a sparse audience in the City Council chambers. Laurie Dittman and Rick Garcia, the two activists primarily responsible for producing credible and varied progay testimony, had lined up an impressive list: the Reverend Willie Barrow of Operation PUSH; writer Anne Mueller; Donna Quinn of Chicago Catholic Women, former president of the National Coalition of American Nuns; Dick Simpson of Clergy and Laity Concerned; the Community Renewal Society’s Paul Sherry; Larry Gorski, president of the Network of Illinois Voters With Disabilities; Tom Bensinger from Access Living Services; and many others.
“We are all God’s children, regardless of race, creed, religious or sexual preference. God made us all,” testified Willie Barrow, Jesse Jackson’s right-hand woman.
Alderman Percy Giles, the commission chairman, sat expressionless. With him were Kathy Osterman and Helen Shiller, both aldermen from north-side wards with large lesbian and gay populations. Aldermen Lemuel Austin and George Hagopian were also present at the start. During the course of the hearings there would be visits from aldermen as diverse as Edwin Eisendrath, Tim Evans, Bobby Rush, Anna Langford, Larry Bloom, Bernie Hansen, and Ed Smith, among others.
“Discrimination against any of God’s children means that you are criticizing God’s own handiwork,” Barrow continued.
Hiram Crawford, the raccoon-eyed west-side minister who has become notorious for his opposition to lesbian and gay civil rights, nodded in accordance. “She right, she right about that,” he said, nodding.
“As Reverend Jesse Jackson says, we must measure human rights by one yardstick,” Barrow concluded. “We just want the game played by the same set of rules.”
Crawford clapped. “God’s rules,” he said. “That’s the only set of rules.”
“This morning, I appear before you to bring you some facts that you are not aware of,” Crawford told the aldermen when it was his turn to testify. His voice was gruff but strong. “In San Francisco in the 70s, this law was passed. . . . Today in the city of San Francisco, where I have been, where I have seen sodomites on sodomites in daylight between 12 and 1 o’clock in the city parks, I did not see any sleds, slides, or swings for children–not one–and you will not find one there today in the city parks.”
The small crowd tittered. Rick Garcia, a young man with small, delicate features, pressed his fingers to his lips asking supporters to remain quiet. One guy covered his face, now red, and ran out of the council room. Standing beside the metal detector in the hallway, he erupted in loud, uncontrollable laughter.
Crawford, his mouth moving as if in a badly dubbed movie, adjusted the microphone and leaned forward. His voice boomed. “No parents take their children to the city parks of San Francisco,” he said. “Only gays have got a special right now, and they control, at this time, the city parks, the superintendent of police, and the increase of disease, by their own board of health, which statistics show is 80 percent increased.”
He was warming up, his words taking on a kind of rhythm. In the public gallery, a few people muttered “Amen” to his pronouncements.
“I think it may shock some of you to know the truth,” Crawford said, his voice trembling with emotion. He paused and wiped his mouth with a large, open palm. “When I first heard that sodomites eat human waste, I almost vomited.”
At this point, the room exploded with hisses and jeers, boos and foot stomping. Garcia buried his face in his hands. Up on the podium, Giles was momentarily stumped, then finally banged the gavel to call for order.
“Please, ladies and gentlemen, it’s OK to applaud, but please, try to respect one another so we can get through the hearing,” Giles pleaded. “So let’s refrain ourselves from any disgusting activities.”
Danny Davis, the velvet-voiced alderman from the west side, came in and surveyed the scene. In the upper gallery, 30 pint-sized elementary-school students, visiting the council chambers to get a look at democracy in action, were wrestling with Crawford’s words. Davis chuckled and took a seat on the podium. Upstairs, the two teacher chaperones were telling the kids–oblivious to the minister’s meaning–that this was not a real City Council meeting.
“Is this what we want in Chicago?” Crawford asked, his eyes wide. “You legalize something and tell them they are right when they are wrong? The National Loveboy of New York City [sic] is today fighting for a law to legalize sex with eight-year-olds, with their consent. We have got some of the same groups here in Chicago too.”
As Crawford continued, the two horrified teachers emptied their charges from the upstairs chambers. Spilling into the hallway, the kids laughed and trotted to the elevators. But by now Crawford had taken a turn in his testimony, alleging gay conspiracies in the Department of Health and at the Cook County Hospital AIDS Clinic.
“We demand an investigation into the charge that the Chicago Department of Health is controlled by gay activists. In Cook County Hospital they have made a guinea pig experimental hospital,” he said, “because the evidence is just produced with over 240 black women, without their knowledge, they were infected with a medicine that had nothing to do with their ailment. They just wanted to experiment.”
“What is he talking about?” Rick Garcia whispered to Laurie Dittman. “I mean, what in God’s name is he talking about?”
Dittman grinned and patted Garcia’s leg. “Let him talk,” she told him. “He’s doing all our work for us.”
“In Zaire, in Africa in 1950, they have experimented on black people only with a pill that would prevent pregnancies. . . . Today, 50 percent of the Zaire people are dead from AIDS because there is a connection between the pill and the AIDS,” Crawford declared. “We don’t have investigations to even know that some of the pills are made out of a male horse’s urine.”
“What does this have to do with anything?” Garcia protested in another loud whisper. “Who are ‘they’?”
By now, Helen Shiller had had her fill. A dark, diminutive woman with small gestures, she slammed her hand on the desk and walked out of the council chambers. In the anteroom, she called an aide and requested coffee, cigarettes, and aspirin. “It’s going to be a long afternoon,” she said into the telephone.
“I just can’t take it anymore,” Shiller told. Adrienne Goodman, the Democratic committeewoman from the Ninth Congressional District, who came backstage to encourage the alderman to challenge Crawford. “I’m enraged by his speech, by his fascist mentality. He’s out there stating subjective prejudices as facts. He’s taking his own illusions and defining mass conspiracies. I have no intention of giving him more of a forum from which to speak his venom.”
Goodman, a longtime supporter of the ordinance, nodded in agreement. “It is disgusting,” she said.
Crawford continued, a rain of spittle falling in front of him. “The Board of Health says you work in an eating place, you have to wash your hands. Here are gays that will consume human waste and then want to kiss somebody. . . . Now here we are, hiring gays to be cooks and wait on tables. The American Medical Association documents three people who died from AIDS. Traced by expensive lawyers, [they] went to an eating place and found a gay who was infected with AIDS. They fired–this is a medical journal–they fired the guy, but that didn’t help them. We are dealing with dynamite here that will destroy this nature and the future generations. . . . Yet, we want to legalize it.”
Ninth Ward Alderman Robert Shaw, his reddish hairpiece slightly out of place, poked his head into the council chambers. “Man, that’s out of control in there,” he said, laughing. “I mean, I don’t know that I’m going to vote for the ordinance, but that’s tasteless.”
Kathy Osterman was a little shaken. The Reverend Samuel Jordan, a stocky black minister in a too-tight dark suit, had just expressed support for every part of the ordinance except the section covering sexual orientation. He’d quoted the Bible left and right as part of his testimony.
“It’s interesting for me to hear your opinion,” Osterman said, “because the God that I know loves all people.”
Jordan nodded. “Right.”
“This ordinance that we are addressing addresses many issues ” Osterman continued. “You sat here this morning and heard many of those, but when you bring out the question of the Bible, there are things in the Bible that maybe we should not take verbatim.”
Jordan’s eyebrows arched. In the audience, Hiram Crawford was shaking his head, muttering, “No, no.”
“For example,” Osterman said, “the Bible says ‘Slaves obey their earthly masters with respect to fear; slaves obey their earthly masters in everything; masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair. . . .’ I think that we have to bring up these points.”
“Yes,” Jordan said, his lips pursed, “we need to know how to rightly divide what God has said.”
Osterman waved a couple of pieces of paper covered with notes and biblical quotations. “I’d just like to end my comments by saying that the God I know and that I love as much as you is the God that loves all people,” she said.
On the opposite end of the podium, Helen Shiller made her way back after taking a couple of aspirin. “Reverend,” she said to Jordan, “I was wondering if you could tell me, in your church, what the teachings are, or what your feeling is, as the reverend, with regard to women who have children out of wedlock? Is that something you approve of?”
Jordan coughed. Then he sat up, telling the council about his own family–daughters who “had their problems,” grandchildren raised by him and his wife, a grandson who fathered a child out of wedlock. “I love them,” Jordan said. But “Did I condone what they did? No.”
“Is it fair to say,” Shiller a sked, “that you have a problem with the activities that lead to children in an unmarried situation, but that you feel that [they] are human beings and need to be able to be assured that they have a living, that they can rent an apartment, that they need to have access to employment in order to be able to support that family?”
In the audience, Laurie Dittman and Rick Garcia were glowing. “Go, Helen, go,” Dittman whispered.
Jordan stumbled, then tried to explain his position by describing the ways his church supports unwed mothers.
“But is it not also true that there are many people beyond the reach of your congregation, as there are many people in this city, and you feel that they too ought to be able to have a roof over their heads?” Shiller pressed.
“I have no disagreement with helping people who need help,” said Jordan. “That’s not what we are disagreeing with.”
Shiller, in a voice that occasionally cracked, told Jordan that that was exactly the point: that we may disagree with a person’s conduct or life-style, but that does not mean the person is not entitled to a home, a job, or basic public privileges. But just when Shiller might have finished her speech, she veered off into a long, rambling monologue about the humanity of all persons.
“Oh, Helen, Helen,” Dittman said, “stick with your point.”
A disheveled man in a stained T-shirt and baggy pants crossed himself with the Holy Trinity, gave Shiller the finger, and walked out of the council chambers. Finally, Percy Giles cut her off. “Alderman, would you please, if you have no questions, rather than going around, let’s go.”
Giles might have shown the same command with the next questioner, Alderman Hagopian, who took the microphone for nearly 15 minutes. First he talked about Christian love, then recounted the history of Armenia (where his parents came from), including the landing of Noah’s ark on Mount Ararat. At one point Hagopian dwelled so much on forgiveness that the gay and lesbian activists in the audience began to wonder if he was about to declare a change of heart.
“Until the day I die, if there is a breath left in this body, I will never vote to make [this] legal,” Hagopian finally declared, clearing the air.
Then Danny Davis tried to explain the intricacies of the ordinance to the Reverend Jordan, but the minister responded with a story about a woman who found out a homosexual in her office used the same washroom.
“You have a problem with homosexuals using washrooms?” Davis asked, incredulous. “Is that true?”
“Very much,” replied Jordan. The audience erupted, prompting Giles to call for order.
A tall, pale man with ice-blue eyes identified himself as “chairman of the Nativity Scene Committee here in Chicago.” Nancy Bellew of the mayor’s office pointed at his briefcase: on it was a small decal featuring the South African flag, the one flown by the Botha government.
“AIDS in the homosexual community has recently been branded as willful misconduct,” he said. “I resent the use of the term ‘AIDS victim’ as it applies to practicing homosexuals. AIDS victims are the innocent hemophiliac children who will die because of infected blood as a result of the disgusting, unnatural sex practices of the homosexual communities.”
Alderman Robert Shaw, who is black and represents a majority black ward, was standing just off the podium clapping.
Before he began his testimony, Steve Carr conferred with the Nativity Scene man, who took notes on a pad against the briefcase bearing the South Africa sticker. Carr, the spokesperson for an organization named Christian Connection, is tall and blond; he wears a perfectly combed mustache and is very handsome. When he strutted up to the microphone, several gay men in the audience howled. Carr smiled with a cruel kind of joy, enjoying the attention.
“My God, is he a closet case or what?” exclaimed Peggy Baker, the city’s coordinator of gay and lesbian issues, as she watched him.
“Once an ordinance is passed,” Carr said, “it gives preferential rights to homosexuals. The next step is that the militant wing of the homosexual community goes after lowering the age of consent . . . trying to lower the age of sexual consent to ten years old. . . . In the Netherlands, for example, where the homosexual community has its international headquarters in Amsterdam, they have been the primary force behind getting the age of legal prostitution in the Netherlands to nine years old.”
“This is such bullshit,” Nancy Bellew said, perched on the edge of her seat. “What is it that’s so frightening to these people? I don’t understand. Why are they dealing in all these lies?”
“Hey, these aren’t lies,” joked Peggy Baker. “I have my official membership card in the Militant Wing of the Homosexual Movement, don’t you?”
“There is no future in homosexuality,” Carr continued. “What we find [is that this is] a tremendous immorality, because as you know, babies are not born out of anuses. Ninety percent of all homosexuals admit to having sodomy; 40 percent admit to an activity which they refer to as rimming, which is none other than licking at a person’s anus; 33 percent admit to fisting, which is sticking your fist or a boot or a bottle or a gerbil up someone’s anus.”
Even Nancy Bellew booed as the room erupted with protest. Carr looked back over his shoulder to the crowd, grinning.
“Should a landlord be stripped of his right to make sanitary health decisions on the basis of someone’s ‘sexual orientation,’ which may include water sports?” Carr asked. “Water sports, for those of us who are not familiar with the terminology, is not squirting one another with water guns. It’s urinating and defecating on each other. It’s extremely hard to clean off carpets and off of ceilings, and a large percentage of homosexuals engage in what they refer to as water parties.”
“How would you know?” yelled an anonymous male voice from the public gallery.
During the question and answer session, Alderman Ed Smith asked Carr if he agreed with Reverend Jordan’s testimony that homosexuals should not be allowed to have certain jobs.
“I can’t answer that yes or no because it’s a qualified answer,” Carr said.
“All right, then I will move on to the next question,” Smith said, annoyed. “His other position was that he didn’t feel that homosexuals ought to be allowed to use the bathroom. What is your response to that?”
“Well, to be honest with you, I had never really considered it before.”
“I want you to consider it now,” Smith ordered.
“You want me to consider it now,” Carr said, leaning toward the microphone. He rubbed his jaw and paused. “Well, I think that homosexuals should be allowed to use the bathroom. I would rather see them defecate there than some of the other places they are accustomed to.”
“I bet you would,” boomed an anonymous heckler.
George Hagopian fidgeted in his chair. Before him was a sinewy young man–masculine, trim, and intense, wearing a perfectly tailored European suit accenting his chest and shoulders. Dale Sapper, the lesbian and gay liaison from 44th Ward Alderman Bernie Hansen’s office, had just finished a polished if passionless statement on behalf of the ordinance.
“Did [being gay] stop you from getting your position?” Hagopian asked him.
“No,” Sapper answered.
“Did it stop you from coming here to testify?”
“Did anybody beat you up on your way in here?”
In the audience, Laurie Dittman and Rick Garcia couldn’t believe what was happening. Sapper was not one of their witnesses, but as a representative of Hansen–the principal sponsor of the ordinance–they expected more forceful testimony.
“What is he doing? Hagopian is walking all over him,” exclaimed Dittman, her face twisted with worry.
“Do you know anybody who was denied a right to come here and speak their mind?” Hagopian continued.
“No sir,” answered Sapper, his eyelids dropping disdainfully.
“My God, why doesn’t he say something?” groaned an anxious Garcia, crossing and uncrossing his legs.
“Do you know of anybody who was beat up just for saying that they were going to come here?”
“The gay community has written in their publication that Alderman Hagopian has about 46 or 48 cards to his deck, and he’s a few short,” Hagopian said, dead serious. “Did you ever hear me say nobody should listen to any gay person or anybody from the gay community?”
“No sir,” Sapper answered through gritted teeth.
“Well, if you’re supposed to have 48 cards, that’s a pinochle deck, and maybe they mean I’m a good pinochle player,” Hagopian said. “I hope that’s what it is.”
“I chose it, I chose to be a homosexual,” declared Willie DuBose, an avowed ex-transsexual, ex-homosexual, and born-again Christian. He had come to testify against the ordinance, and it was his contention that homosexuality is a choice, not an “orientation.” “I chose to go get augmentation mammoplasty, I wanted breasts, I wanted my testicles cut off, I wanted surgery so I wouldn’t have this,” he said, pointing to his Adam’s apple.
Anna Langford, the feisty alderman from the 16th Ward, was at the end of her rope. When DuBose proposed that homosexuals already had rights and then called them “snakes,” Langford blew up. “I don’t, Mr. Chairman, want anybody sitting here calling people snakes, and if he does it again, I want him out,” she said.
Percy Giles nodded, gulped, and admonished DuBose. But as soon as he began again, Langford jumped in. “Excuse me, Mr. Chairman, is there a time limit on this witness?” DuBose stared angrily at Langford, his mouth in a sullen pout.
Later, Denise Whitehurst, a young black woman representing a group called Concerned Women for America, said that “homosexualism” is “not really human”; it were, she said, homosexuals wouldn’t need legislation to protect themselves. Anna Langford got her back up again. She grilled Whitehurst until the woman’s knuckles turned white. “Are you trying to tell me,” she asked, “that we [blacks] didn’t need legislation to get our rights in this country?”
“Alderman Langford, you and I are seeing this from different sides,” Whitehurst said, exasperated. “I have fared fairly well in life. I get along with blacks as well as whites.”
“So you are satisfied, and you don’t care whether people are mistreated or not?” retorted Langford.
“I am saying you have a problem that you have not gotten over,” Whitehurst said smugly, “and I understand your problem, and I sympathize with you.
“Why are you here today asking for legislation to legitimize what’s happening in these people’s bedrooms?” Alderman Shaw asked Father Gerald of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Anna Langford tapped her finger against a copy of the proposed legislation. “The word bedroom is not in the ordinance,” she said.
Father Gerald jumped in. “I fail to see the generalization of condoning what’s going on in the bedroom.”
“Last question,” Shaw said.
“I hope so,” added Langford, rolling her eyes, “if it’s as stupid as the others.”
Shaw puffed his chest out. “As a member of the City Council, I am just as much entitled to ask any question as any other member of the City Council, and I will not hesitate to ask a question.” He went on and on, defending his right to a final question. “You watch the animals on the street, and how many times have you seen the same sex indulge with sexual acts with one another?”
Father Gerald blushed. “I grew up on a farm,” he said.
“On the farm?” Shaw asked. He puffed up even more. “I grew up on the farm, and I have never seen it. You have seen something that most people haven’t seen.”
“You say that you have taken a partner for two years?” Alderman Hagopian asked Vincent Samar, a swarthy, serious young lawyer and professor.
“Over two years,” Samar said with obvious pride.
“And you say you hope you will always be together?” Hagopian pressed.
During his testimony, Samar had asked, “Can you imagine having to introduce the person that you are married to as a friend in order to safeguard your employment?” Hagopian was intrigued by his use of the word married. “Were you referring to you and your friend?” he asked.
“You have married this young man?” Hagopian asked.
“I consider our relationship to be the equivalent of a marriage,” Samar responded.
“That isn’t what I asked you,” Hagopian’ insisted. “I asked you if you were referring to the young man you are living with.”
“Yes, Alderman, but only by way of analogy,” Samar explained. “You can imagine a situation where a person isn’t allowed to get legally married.”
“And why?” Hagopian asked.
Samar paused, bedeviled by the alderman’s line of questioning. He looked around for a moment as if trying to get a grip on reality. Then he delineated for the alderman Illinois state statutes on who can marry whom.
“Are you or are you not married to this young man?” Hagopian persisted.
Samar was amazed. “I consider our relationship to be the equivalent.”
“According to the laws of the state of Illinois–”
“According to the laws of the state of Illinois, I am not married,” Samar said.
Hagopian smiled. “You figure because you are gay, you can violate the laws of this state and you shouldn’t be prosecuted?”
“Alderman, there is no law of the state of Illinois that I am in violation of by being with this person,” Samar said in frustration. “If a law were existing which would give me the opportunity to have a legally recognized marriage, I would take advantage of that because I am quite satisfied with this young man. I don’t need anyone else. This is very satisfying in my life. I am in violation of no law. There is no law that allows me to be married. In terms of my moral commitment, my promise to him is the same as a real marriage.”
Hagopian was not impressed. By the end of it all, Anna Langford felt compelled to direct a few words to the chair. “I think it takes a lot of courage for the people who are here to testify,” she said, “and I wish that this panel would treat them with respect and courtesy.”
Vincent Samar’s eyes glowed as he got up from the witness chair. “Thank you, Alderman,” he whispered into the microphone. The lights in the room were quite mild, but Samar’s forehead was wet.
On Wednesday, September 14, the Human Rights Ordinance came up for a vote. Its traditional supporters such as Bobby Rush, David Orr, Helen Shiller, and Kathy Osterman voted for it. So did gay rights converts Richard Mell, Patrick O’Connor, and Ed Burke. All of the mayoral aspirants backed it too.
The ordinance was defeated, 26 to 21.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Bill Stamets.