Achy Obejas


1) Birthdate:


2) Birthplace:

Havana, Cuba

3) City/state where you live currently:

Chicago, Illinois

4) Education:

Waaren Wilson College

5) Career:


6) Did you serve in the U.S. military?


7) How do you describe your sexuality and your gender?

Lesbian female

8) Do you have children and/or grandchildren?


9) If you are GLBT, please describe when you first “knew.”

Around age 12 or 13.

10) Who did you first “come out” to and when?

I came out to my cousins and brother first, but it wasn’t much of a coming out… they knew, we knew, it was all very accepted and assumed.

11) What troubles did you face as a GLBT person?

I mostly identified as bisexual in high school, and I did have boyfriends and enjoyed sex with men so I think it was probably accurate. I think that gave me a certain amount of exotic cover. I grew up in a pretty conservative town in Indiana and I can honestly tell you all was fine.

12) List organizations (GLBT or mainstream) you have been involved in:

Chicago Foundation for Women (board member; I think I was their first out lesbian)
Mayor Harold Washington's Committee on Gay and Lesbian Issues/COGLI (founder)

13) When you were coming out, what were your favorite Chicago GLBT bars?

La Mere Vipere on Halsted; Augie and CK’s; Jeffrey Pub; Teresa’s Blues Bar (even though technically it wasn’t a gay bar).

14) What were the key issues faced in the GLBT community when you first came out?

Racism – a bunch of places, like Augie’s, banned people of color. It was a nightmare. General acceptance – this was back in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s.

15) What issues do you see as key in the GLBT community today?

Oh, I dunno… Racism… I still marvel at what a white boys’ club the “gay establishment” can be, and how people of color are written out of history.

16) How have AIDS and/or other health issues impacted your life personally?

AIDS was huge. We all lost so many people: Ron Sable, Danny Sotomayor, Alex Poplawski, Jeff McCourt… Death was so utterly common, so quotidian, I think we all became rather thick-skinned, a little less frightened, a lot more angry.

17) How would you describe the “diversity” within the Chicago GLBT community?

It still feels like a community divided, although I see it less among younger people. They seem to have less hang-ups about gender, race, class. I love their freedom, the way they flow… but I think the people in positions of influence at a lot of organizations are frequently still tripping on matters of race and gender. Even more unfortunately, they’re “tired” of hearing about it and feel quite “above” it.

18) If you consider yourself a “political” activist, how do you define this?

I have worked on quite a few political campaigns, notably the Human Rights Ordinance. I was critical to bringing about the votes of the Hispanic aldermen at that time, which tipped the scales.

19) Describe what you feel your personal legacy is to the Chicago GLBT community.

The Human Rights Ordinance, a really tough political journalism, and the portrayal of a diverse and complex community in my books and stories. Plus, I’ve been the first out lesbian in a million places, including The Chicago Tribune, and I can honestly say their GLBT coverage changed dramatically after I was on board – not just under my byline, but in general ‘cuz I worked my ass off.

20) This project is also about “defining moments.” Please discuss some of those in your life.

Coming over from Cuba on a boat, illegally, in the middle of the night.

Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City's Gay Community, the book is edited by Tracy Baim and features the contributions of more than 20 prominent historians and journalists. It is published by Surrey Books, an Agate imprint, and is hard cover, 224 pages, 4-color, with nearly 400 photos.
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