To the editors:
Let me begin by thanking you for "Gay Life: The Hall of Fame Flap" [June 21]. As an activist and a member of both ACT UP and Queer Nation, I have been concerned for some time now about the way in which ACGLI "represents" our community. I also believe that it is long past the time when people outside of Chicago's Lesbian and Gay community should have taken an interest in how "Special Interest Groups" are mishandled by the Daley administration. While Mr. Williams's article focused on only one small issue confronting the Advisory Committee on Gay and Lesbian Issues, many of the points raised have relevance for everyone living in Chicago.
One such point relates to the social/racial/ethnic composition of ACGLI. As was suggested in the article, many people have had a problem with what they see as the lopsided representation ACGLI provides a community as diverse as ours. Where there are gaps, and there are many, it is more likely inherent in the selection process imposed by City Hall than it is a problem caused by the community's lack of interest or cooperation. In short, someone stacked the deck. Can you imagine how hard it would be to control a committee that embodied the whole range of political diversity found in a real cross section of local Lesbian and Gay activists? Can you imagine Richie Daley even trying?
In a recent interview given to Windy City Times, Jon Simmons, the outgoing Executive Director of ACGLI, sang the praises of the administration's hiring record. He was even able to point to a couple of fairly visible appointments in support of this view. He did not, however, address the issue of just how much real power or influence these positions offer to the community as a whole.
In fact, Daley has assembled his appointments in much the same way as an avid collector adds to his doll collection. He has variety (Women, Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Queers, etc), and he has a few rare pieces (The First this, The First that, and so on). Each and every one of them was, of course, carefully handpicked to fit into the collection. Sometimes Daley even find uses for his "dolls" but mostly they are just for show. When Daley is bored or distracted, his "dolls" find themselves pushed back into their boxes, out of sight and out of mind but always available as symbols of a "good and fair" administration.
Simmons has also said that the restructuring of ACGLI and the other Advisory Committees insured a greater degree of access and more real "standing" with the rest of the City Hall drudges. If this is so, then ACGLI at least has given up its autonomy (COGLI's main virtue) for the access of a beggar at the door. ACGLI, as a body, has never met with Clarence Wood let alone with Daley. Having this in mind, it is hardly surprising that ACGLI or any of the seven other Advisory Committees under CHR find themselves without effective power and with little or no voice in important decisions made in their names. The "flap" over the location chosen for the Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame is a very good example of this.
If the Advisory Committees truly represent anything, it is Daley's determination to wield total control over politics in the City of Chicago. To this end, people out in the various communities are forced to try to negotiate with an administration which governs through commands from on high. Moreover, they must do so through channels they have no control over, through "representatives" who are always kept fully aware of that which they CANNOT do. By limiting access, Daley insures that he will hear only that which he wishes to hear. Ignorance, it has been said, is bliss. At least he thinks so.
ACGLI is little more than a symbol and though it insures a good show, ACGLI lacks substance and lacks clout. Substance means real power but it can be very hard to come by. Daley has taken over the Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame because stealing our history and using it for self-promotion makes good political sense. ACGLI may seem to be unwilling to voice any opinions counter to those of the powers that be, but they really can't help it. They were born that way. They were always meant to be seen but not heard.
Michael A.E. Schumann