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Brown Elephant Resale Shops Provide Funding to LGBT Patients

The Howard Brown Health Center provides health and social services, including HIV prevention and treatment, to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender clients, over 50 percent of whom are uninsured. HBHC receives about $1 million of funding from three donation-based Brown Elephant resale shops in Chicago and Oak Park, Ill. Andersonville is home to the largest of the three, located near the corner of Clark Street and Balmoral Avenue.

A Religious Embrace, Unexpected

By Gabi P. Remz

George Garcia was shocked to see a man he recognized walking in.

“Can I get some of these?” the man asked, pointing to a large crate of condoms just past the door.

“We can give you boxes full,” Garcia said, before walking to the storage room at the Test Positive Aware Network (TPAN) in Edgewater, where he has volunteered for six years.

Garcia returned to the lobby and handed the man four large boxes.

The man thanked Garcia and walked out. Garcia stood still, astonished.

By most standards, Garcia’s exchange at TPAN was quite typical. The clinic serves people with HIV, and Garcia estimated that TPAN distributes more than 1,000 condoms a day.

But the reason for Garcia’s surprise was simple: the man was no ordinary client.
He was a pastor, leading a church just a few blocks away.

“Religious groups…they don’t want me to bring condoms into church,” Garcia said. “It’s just their belief.”

Lately, though, churches and synagogues are working to prove statements like Garcia’s wrong, just as the pastor did three weeks ago. In Edgewater today, religious groups’ cooperation with the HIV positive community is not hidden or taboo—it is a significant aspect of their charitable work.

And many religious leaders say there is little option but to embrace the HIV positive community. Nearly two percent of Edgewater’s more than 56,000 residents are HIV positive, compared to the national average of .02 percent, according to a Chicago Department of Public Health report. That population, compounded with Edgewater’s large and vocal LGBT community, makes HIV causes a priority.

“[HIV] is one of those issues that’s kind of a no-brainer. Of course we want people to be tested, we want people to know their status, we want to support research,” said Rev. Monte Johnson, a pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church.

And so, churches and synagogues scattered throughout Edgewater act accordingly.

Johnson said he encourages and supports the many members of his congregation who volunteer or donate to HIV-focused charities, like Center on Halsted (an LGBT community center) and the Brown Elephant (a second-hand store whose proceeds go towards an HIV clinic).

That support strikes extremely close to Johnson, as his wife, Kari, has been heavily involved in the fight against HIV and AIDS. In July, she participated in the Ride for AIDS Chicago, a 2-day, 200-mile bike ride. Kari raised more than $1,000 for AIDS research—money she gathered mostly from members of her congregation. Immanuel’s choir director, Scott Weidler, led Kari’s support staff at the event.

“We have a large amount of support in our congregation for gay and lesbian rights, so [AIDS research] was a pretty easy cause to sell to them,” said Kari, who has been married to Monte for eight years.

Immanuel is under the auspices of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which recognizes gay marriages, ordains openly gay clergy and is considered one of the more liberal religious governing bodies in the United States.

Still, Johnson emphasized the fact that his church does not work with HIV-focused organizations in any official capacity—because that, he said, might be pushing his congregants too far.

Andy Shedd is an associate pastor at Edgewater Baptist Church, which preaches an official policy of sex as being only between man and woman.

However, Shedd said his congregation has several openly gay members and pointed to a congregant who had a long battle with AIDS in the mid ‘90s, causing the community to come together and discuss how to fight the disease. Since then, members have been encouraged to volunteer and donate to local charities, which can include LGBT and HIV positive-focused organizations, though they are not specifically directed there.

“We don’t have an official…relationship with anyone from [the LGBT and HIV positive] communities,” said Shedd, who has been a member of Edgewater Baptist his entire life. “But our hope is that our congregation reflects our community.”

But some, like Pastor Michael Fick of Ebenezer Lutheran Church, have actively sought to bring the HIV positive community to the congregation.

Fick, who is openly gay, has been at Ebenezer for less than a year, but in that time, he has created a series of initiatives to serve the LGBT and HIV positive communities. About a third of Ebenezer is LGBT, according to Fick, and many volunteer at the Center on and the Brown Elephant. The church also sends volunteers to support groups for LGBT youth.

“We try to be open to what’s important to people in our community and to make sure we’re reflecting all of our values,” Fick said. “Certainly one of our values is offering spaces and creating opportunity for engagement.”

Fick points to the church’s free HIV testing program as a major step. Ebenezer has several members who are openly HIV positive, and so when Center on Halsted approached Fick about teaming up to offer free and confidential testing, congregants gave their full support.

Fick believes hosting the tests in a religious environment sends a message of support difficult to find elsewhere.

“[The HIV tests] would be something unexpected in a church, based on the experiences that some people in our congregation had at other communities,” Fick said. “Being that [those communities] were antithetical not only to LGBT people, but in particular to people who are HIV positive.”

Similarly strong support comes from Congregation Or Chadash, a Reform synagogue that describes itself on its website as “serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual Jews, their families, friends and loved ones.”

Or Chadash’s rabbi, Larry Edwards, said his congregation has frequent programming at Center on Halsted, and congregants view the AIDS Run and Walk Chicago as one of the year’s most important events.

“Those issues are front and center, they’re our priorities,” Edwards said. “AIDS and HIV are a real part of our communal memory and the present consciousness of many, many of our members.”

Representatives from several Edgewater Catholic churches and the Ismaili Center, a Shi’a Muslim congregation, declined comment for this story.

All of this leads back to Garcia, who said he was scolded by clergy at various churches in other parts of Chicago for asking if he could distribute condoms to members. Eventually, Garcia, who is gay and became infected with HIV in 1991, became less involved with religion.

But when Garcia saw the pastor take condoms from TPAN that day, he was reminded of an important message, one that he was thrilled to see religious groups in Edgewater take quite seriously.

“I cannot stop people from having sex,” Garcia said. “What I can stop them from is giving the disease they have to others.”

Falling Behind: the lack of progress in eradicating HIV from the United States

By Jenny Starrs

Joy Morris has seen the many changes in the HIV epidemic firsthand. Morris, a transgender Chicago native, was officially diagnosed in 1986.

“Back then, HIV had high prevalence and incidence rates within the white MSM [men who have sex with other men] populations, so there were a lot of white MSMs and I think I was the only trans woman going to the [counseling] group,” Morris said, referring to the support services she went to in the 1980s and 1990s. “There were a few African American women, there were a few black guys, but for the most part it was mostly white gay men. And a lot of those kids died. I saw them die.”

Morris is one in the growing ranks of individuals who are, as she put it, simply “getting old with HIV.” As medication, prevention methods and counseling services have increased in effectiveness, being HIV positive has transformed from a death sentence to a manageable disease. But with this transformation comes a new Pandora’s box of problems.


While new treatment methods, such as highly active antiretroviral therapy, have raised the life expectancy for American citizens living with HIV, infection rates have yet to decrease.

“In the United States, there are 50,000 new HIV infections every year. That has not changed for many years,” Dr. Eric Christoff said. Christoff is an HIV specialist with the Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group and has worked in this field since the 1990s. This unchanging incidence rate puts the U.S. behind many other developed nations, according to UNAIDS data documenting HIV infection rates from 2001 to 2011.

Ramon Gardenhire, the director of government relations at the Aids Foundation of Chicago, points out the disconnect between testing and care as one reason for this stability in numbers, instead of the decrease that most other Western countries are experiencing today. Out of the approximately 1.2 million Americans estimated to be HIV positive by the Federal HIV/AIDS Web Council at, only 46 percent are regularly receiving treatment.

“This is significant because new research (from the HIV Prevention Trials study 052) came out this year which showed that individuals who are actually linked in to care and taking their HIV medications are 96 percent less likely to transmit the virus to someone else,” Gardenhire said. “So that 50 percent not being linked in to care not only has a detrimental impact on their quality of life and their healthcare, but also their ability to transmit the virus to other people.”


So in a country with the highest GDP ranking in the world, how can half of HIV positive citizens not regularly receive medical treatment? Between stringent Medicaid qualifications and complex insurance companies’ policies, one problem stands out: rising infections within minority communities.

“There’s been a transition in who gets the disease over this time frame,” Christoff said. “A lot of these patients are trending to being a bit younger and they’re a lot more African American and Hispanic and other minority groups than they are Caucasian, generally speaking.”

Leon Lieberman, 82, is an HIV positive activist who has seen this growth through his work with the Aids Legal Council of Chicago, and perhaps the reason behind it.

“In some societies, some communities, there are still stigmas. People are reluctant to be tested. If they are tested and they’re diagnosed with HIV, they’re reluctant to seek treatment because then it will be a known thing,” Lieberman said. This stigma is alive and well among young black MSMs, who have the highest incidence rates of all other population groups. Because of the correlation in the minds of many between HIV and perceived gay promiscuity, being tested and/or treated for the infection pushes individuals into the scrutiny of, and often rejection from, their communities.

While HIV incidence rates have remained stable in the U.S., that isn’t the case for these at-risk groups. “The numbers for new infections have somewhat been stagnant over the last few years except there was an uptick in young black MSMs,” Gardenhire said.


The current healthcare system has yet to put forth solutions to face these rising infections. With the healthcare overhaul imminent and hopeful in the eyes of those like Christoff and Gardenhire, there are still gaps in what the government can realistically accomplish.

“There’s just a lot of people not having access to high quality healthcare providers in their community,” Gardenhire said. “You want to make sure you go to a provider that’s culturally competent and can understand the issues.”

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act cannot ensure the implementation of these programs vital to the young black and Hispanic MSM communities, especially with questions of funding facing the new system. Organizations such as the AFC fund community-based clinics and groups throughout the city, which is where many in these high prevalence groups find the help they need.

            Test Positive Aware Network, a free HIV/AIDS clinic in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood, is one of these organizations. Since their early beginnings 25 years ago, they have seen this change in affected individuals just as Morris, one of their clients, has. Edgewater is the second highest incidence area of HIV/AIDS in Chicago, one of the cities with the highest rates in the country. To face the growing needs of a harder-to-reach community, TPAN has expanded its services past its own walls at 5537 N. Broadway St.


“We go to the bath houses, we go to bars, street festivals, sometimes we go to the ballroom scene,” said Bill Farrand, TPAN’s CEO. “We do around 2500 tests a year.” In addition to HIV tests, TPAN offers many peer-led support services and works to protect the anonymity of their patients, which helps many of those afraid of being identified as HIV positive. Morris is just one of many who take advantage of TPAN’s easily accessible services. She has been with TPAN since her diagnosis, and has seen the changing faces of those sitting around her in the support group she attends Tuesday nights.

“I’ve been positive for 31 years,” Morris said. “When I came back with my results positive, I needed to find some kind of support, and they were the support. They still are.”

The LGBTQ Community and Catholicism: Not Quite a Love Story


If you had walked into Loyola University’s McCormick Lounge last Thursday, you would’ve seen a video of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” playing on a projector. You also would have heard Paul Kubicki, a junior majoring in Philosophy, say, “This is the beacon of gay theology.”

Advocate, Loyola’s LGBTQA organization, was having its weekly meeting. The dichotomy of the LGBTQ community and the Catholic Church is one that has been bridged in many liberal places like Loyola. However, since conservative Pope Benedict XVI took over in 2005, even places like Loyola are in danger. This is a pope who once said gay marriage undermined “the future of humanity itself.”

Kubicki summed it up simply by saying, “This pope sucks.”

Because of progressive theologies, some universities are being stripped of their Catholic affiliations. The Vatican did this to Pontifical Catholic University in Peru over the summer. What it all comes down to is scripture, and how strict the Magisterium’s interpretation is at the time.

Father John Kartje, the chaplain and director of Northwestern University’s Sheil Catholic Center, said that although revelation is continually unfolding, the Church’s doctrines have always been grounded in scripture,

At the end of the day, I don’t try to pretend that we’ll have a deeper conversation,” Kartje said. The Catholic Church overall says homosexuality to the length of complete intimacy isn’t coherent with the understanding of sacramental marriage.”

A Story of Resistance

Standing firm by that conviction is Notre Dame University, which is still debating whether or not a gay straight alliance should be allowed on campus. In fact Notre Dame still doesn’t include sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination clause.

Nathan Lamp, a sophomore transfer to Northwestern from Notre Dame, was involved in the movement to change these policies. Four out of five people between the ages of 18 and 30 support gay rights, and so their organization was named The 4 to 5 Movement. They pushed for recognition of a gay straight alliance and for sexual orientation to be included in the nondiscrimination clause.

“It’s hard to feel accepted…when there’s that kind of institutional un-acceptance of the LGBTQ community,” Lamp said.

He helped plan events, collect petitions and organize rallies to change the un-acceptance, especially the nondiscrimination clause.

The state of Indiana does not require universities to have nondiscrimination clauses that include sexual orientation. Lamp said Notre Dame feels they shouldn’t have to do anything unless forced to do so.

“There’s no reason to stop them from expelling a student or firing a faculty member because of that person’s sexuality or gender identity,” Lamp said.

Illinois, on the other hand, requires institutions to include sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination clauses, which explains the policies of Catholic institutions DePaul University and Loyola.

A Story of Discrimination

Loyola University is a Jesuit institution, which are typically known to be the most liberal of the Catholic schools. Advocate leader and senior Travis Olson said he didn’t even consider the religious aspect of Loyola when deciding whether or not to attend.

“I heard about it as a gay school before I really knew what it meant to be a Catholic school,” Olson said.

Despite being in a more open environment than that of Notre Dame, Olson said Advocate is under strict scrutiny. There has especially been controversy over Advocate’s annual drag show, which places the LGBTQ community on a big, public stage. Olson said this scrutiny is good for students because they learn how to speak about their cause and how to defend themselves.

“It prepares students better for the real world,” Olson said.

This real world consists of organizations like the Cardinal Newman Society, a Catholic organization strongly in support of conservative values. The society has been outspoken in its opposition to Loyola’s annual drag show.

Cardinal Newman Society President Patrick J. Reilly wrote to Loyola’s President, “Events like this not only undermine the sacred trust parents have in Loyola University, but may lead to serious personal and social problems caused by confusion about sexuality. Drag shows debase the human person and are an affront to Catholic teaching on the dignity of the human person.”

Yet another conservative group, TFP Student Action, is targeting Catholic universities that have gay straight alliances. On their website, they list the 111 Catholic institutions that have clubs and ask viewers to register a protest. The site also includes posts about the nature of homosexuality and how it is affecting the Church.

One such post, subtitled “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing,” said, “Homosexual predators, calling themselves ‘Catholic’ while violating the most basic norms of Christian morals, further the ‘auto-demolition’ of the Church.”

Out of Touch           

Groups like these that are Pope Benedict XVI’s major supporters are not in the majority, but they are loud.

“This pope is extremely conservative and he’s completely out of touch with the views of most Catholics,” Kubicki said.

In truth many Catholics are supportive of gay rights. A recent study by Pew Research Center shows 46 percent of Catholics support gay marriage, which makes Catholicism one of the most supportive religious sects. The study does clarify that the increased acceptance came from those who did not attend church frequently.

There are still pockets of conservatism like Notre Dame where gay marriage and gay rights are peripherally discriminated against. Father Kartje has experienced parishes like this.

“There would be things like LGBT prayers groups wanting to get together…these were people saying we want to try to live out this life,” Kartje said. “And then flyers were getting ripped down or ugly things being written on them.”

Although Kartje said these people were in the minority, he does believe that Catholics need to “belly up to the bar” and live out the teachings of treating the LGBTQ community as neighbors.

A Conclusion of Disillusion

Nathan Lamp transferred from Notre Dame because he did not feel supported there. And after 14 years of Catholic school, he says he doesn’t feel fully supported in the Church.

“Because of the way I’m seeing church officials treat issues around sexuality, I can’t say I feel super comfortable staying with the Church,” Lamp said.

Travis Olson has a gay friend who has wanted to be a Catholic priest since having a vision of Jesus at age eight. And now he’s experiencing one of the greatest struggles of his life as he considers leaving the church. Olson doesn’t understand why he hasn’t left already.

“I just question, why do you stay? Why do you torture yourself this way?” Olson asked.

Father Kartje hopes the Catholic Church will begin to live out its teachings more strongly and actually support the LGBTQ community, even if they don’t support their expression of love.

“What I think rarely gets mentioned is that far more heterosexuals are not living out the teachings of the Church than homosexuals.”






One Million Bones

Students gathered round a long table in an art room at Norris University Center. As they molded gray, cool clay in their hands, they laughed, chatted and even ate cookie

From the mood in the room, you’d think they were gathered for a party.

In a way they were. But the objects they were sculpting were contradictory to the festive environment.

There were bones in their hands, on the tables and on the trays.

Members of the Rotaract Club, an organization that stresses both community and international service, gathered last Thursday to sculpt as many clay bones as possible for a project called One Million Bones.

Schools and groups around the country are contributing bones that represent all the people who have been killed or displaced because of genocide in Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burma. This spring the bones will make their way to DC to be displayed on the National Mall.

Rotaract Co-Presidents Eileen Dominic and Adriana Stanovici chose to participate because the club has a strong tradition of international aid, including a spring break trip to a foreign country each year.

“I think that it’s harder to remember sometimes that people are struggling farther away,” Dominic said. “But everyone here is obviously doing something.”

About 20 students came to the meeting, where they talked about genocide and watched a documentary while crafting. Stanovici said the event was one of the first of the quarter open to non-members.

“I’m really excited about seeing new faces who don’t normally show up at Rotaract meetings. And doing something fun hands-on and at the same time learning why we’re doing this,” Stanovici said.

The hands-on aspect of the activity was extremely moving for some participants.  Undecided freshman Emiliano Vera was there to help and said the sculpting put the horrors of genocide in perspective for him.

“If you’re holding a bone in your hand, you can imagine that this is someone’s bone,” Vera said. “And the fact that we’re making a million of them…that’s still an underestimation of all the people who have died.”

And for each of those one million bones, the Bezos Family Foundation will donate $1 to support victims of humanitarian crises in Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The project came to Northwestern’s Rotaract Club from Bronte Price, a sophomore studying art and photography at Columbia College. Price became involved after she took a class freshman year with Columbia’s faculty head of the project.

“I didn’t know anything about genocide besides the Holocaust and Cambodia,” Price said. “When I started getting involved and learning about all of these things, it was overwhelming.”

She threw herself into the project and was named the state representative for Illinois. One of Price’s favorite parts of the project is the art itself.

“For an artist it’s just the best feeling to actually be able to use art to change something,” Price said.

Price has a team of six who work closely with her, but there are an additional 15 to 20 who help make bones. Up until this fall, the group made 25,000, and they’ve made 7,000 more since the school year began.

In the spring Price will make the trip to Washington, D.C. to see the bones arranged, and she knows exactly how she’ll feel about her accomplishment.

“It’s going to be the most powerful thing I’ve ever done.”



Immigration Reform Considers LGBTQ Issues

by Cameron Albert-Deitch

Attorney Michael Jarecki recently had a client who was struggling to keep her British partner in the United States.

Ordinarily, this situation wouldn’t be a problem.

United States immigration law allows American citizens to petition for a company to sponsor a foreign spouse for lawful permanent resident status. Alternatively, the spouse could apply for a student visa or apply for political asylum.

But Jarecki’s client, whose name has been kept confidential, wasn’t married. She was lesbian in a committed relationship. And keeping a foreign permanent partner in the United States is nearly impossible. Continue reading

Fans weather the story for Bears-Texans game

by Bilal Iftikhar

Torrential rain and gusting winds couldn’t prevent the fans of the Chicago Bears from selling out Soldier Field on Sunday November 11 to watch a primetime showdown against the Houston Texans. Sunday Night Football featured a matchup of the two top defenses and offenses in the NFL in a possible Super Bowl Preview.

The weather did, however, manage to affect the outcome of the game. Both teams failed to accumulate over 250 yards of total offense as the Texans squeezed out a victory 13-6. Texans running back Arian Foster managed to score the game’s only touchdown by a one-yard pass from quarterback Matt Schaub.

“It was a tough loss,” said Bears season ticket holder Max Stejskal. “Everyone knew coming in here it was going to be a defensive battle. Ideally these weather conditions end up playing in our favor but these Houston guys really came out and punched us in the mouth tonight.”

Fans lined up in troves to buy last-minute ponchos and rain jackets from street vendors and official the Chicago Bears stadium store. Weather forecasts predicted the rain to subside midway through the game but the downpour never ceased.

“I gave a few of my extra ponchos to a few college kids from Chicago, they were getting soaked sitting in the third row,” said Alex Hoffer, a Texans fan from the Houston area. Hoffer and his family attend every Texans home game and at least one away game every year.

“We decided this year Chicago would be the best place to visit. We have friends here, the hot dogs at the stadium are spectacular, and this is probably one of the best pure football matchups of the year,” Hoffer said.

Half time was filled with several military tributes and honors for recent Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. Houston and Chicago fans stood on their feet for the duration of the time stoppage to show their respect.

The cold weather was not the only difficult part of the game that Bears fans had to deal with. Towards the end of the second half, Texans linebacker knocked Bears quarterback Jay Cutler out of the game with an illegal hit above the waist. Cutler suffered a severe concussion and was unable to return to the game in the second half.

“This was absolutely one of the worst things that could have happened to us,” said Bears fan William Perge. “We lost Cutler last year to injury and we pretty much lost every game the rest of the season. We can’t lose him, he’s vital.”

Dobbins was fined $30,000 for his hit on Cutler. The Bears’ quarterback is ruled out for tonight’s Monday Night Football game against the San Francisco 49ers.

Guy Mendilow Ensemble Puts Modern Twist on Traditional Music

by Cameron Albert-Deitch

Guy Mendilow Ensemble photo 1

The Guy Mendilow Ensemble features (left to right) Tomoko Omura, Sofia Tosello, Tareq Rantisi, Guy Mendilow and Andy Bergman.

Once upon a time. Four simple words. Yet we put them together and all of a sudden, we are ready to be mesmerized. These four words are a signal: we are about to be told a story.

On Wednesday, November 7, at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, Guy Mendilow started his show with the words, “This evening, it’s our pleasure to share with you some of our favorite tales. And these stories have a bit of history. And because history is really nothing more than a story, we say, ‘Once upon a time.” Continue reading