Neena Hemmady


1) Birthdate:


2) Date you first mark as getting together with your partner:

I have been with my partner Joy since January, 1999.

3) Birthplace:

Melrose Park, Illinois

4) City/state where you live currently:

Oak Park, Illinois

5) Education:

University of Illinois (Urbana), BS, Civil Engineering
Illinois Institute of Technology/IIT, MS, Environmental Engineering

6) Career:

Environmental Engineer currently—always an activist!

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

Lesbian woman

8) Do you have children and/or grandchildren?

Two children, both four (they are 10 months apart), one boy (older) and one girl.

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

I have known ever since I was five, when I had dreams about Kate Jackson in Charlie's Angels!

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

I first came out when I got together with my first girlfriend at college - I was 19, she was 18.

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

Anti-LGBT slurs from various people, shock from my roommates, and shame issues from my parents.

12) Did you have mentors in the Chicago GLBT community?

The first folks I met in Chicago who brought me into the activist scene were Robert Castillo, John Pennycuff, and Gerardo Montemayor. I quickly joined Queer Nation and we hit the streets in anti-violence marches.

13) List organizations you have been involved in.

Khuli Zaban organization for LBT women from South and West Asian communities (co-founder)
Crossroads Fund (board member)
Color Triangle (steering committee member and coalition volunteer)
Asian Pacific Lesbian and Bi Network/APLBN (volunteer)
Funding Exchange (volunteer)
South Asian Women's Writers Association (volunteer)
Mango Tribe (volunteer)
ACGLI (volunteer)
Chicago Foundation for Women (volunteer)
Equality Illinois (volunteer)
Queer to the Left (volunteer)
Volunteer for/donor to many other organizations.

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

PARIS!, Stargaze, Big Chicks, Girlbar, various cafes – all from 1994–2001.

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

Youth issues, youth homelessness, systematic discrimination (including marriage), violence, internalized homophobia, and the other issues society faces (racism, sexism, etc. etc.).

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

Same as above.

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

One of my close friends suffered from breast cancer – LCCP took on a more personal meaning.

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

Chicago is a segregated city – this is reflected in large part in the community. I was hoping the Color Triangle would be sustainable to address these issues.

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

Involved to include LGBT in the Illinois human rights law (won that!), domestic partner benefits at my company, and participated in many anti-violence and racism marches/demos.

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

Khuli Zaban is my most notable thing – though by 2008 it has largely faded. We are talking about starting it back up, as it was a profound way to be visible as a South Asian queer woman, and to ORGANIZE as a South Asian queer woman.

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

Coming out to my family was big as my parents are Indian immigrants. Having children was huge, and helped to "normalize" the relationship with my mom.

22) Additional comments and memories:

We need more spaces to dialogue as a whole community – and to ensure we advocate for ALL our community as we think about social change.

We need a center on the South Side.

We need youth support.

We need to end violence – both in society and in our relationships.

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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