Israel Wright


1) Birthdate:


2) Birthplace:

Coshocton, Ohio

3) City where you live currently:

Chicago, Illinois

4) Education:

Loyola University (Chicago)

5) Career:

My career experiences include banking, owning a business, fundraising, doing graphic designs, grassroots organizing, photography, photojournalism, and promoter.

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


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

I would consider myself a black gay male. Sometimes I interchange the term Same Gender loving out of respect for my friend and associate Cleo Manago, a fellow Adodi brother who first started using the term.

8) Do you have children and or grandchildren?


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

I was attracted to men at an early age. Funny because my Mother has told me she knew when I was four years old that I was gay. My Father on the other hand was not entirely convinced that I preferred males, even though the signs were there.

All my life I personally knew that my orientation was toward other boys and finally men. It has been a life journey to convince others and make them aware of my preferences for my same sex.

Elementary school probably was the first major exposure and experience to sexual investigation and discovery. A group of us boys for some odd reason decided to remain indoors when others in the class went outside to the playground during our sixth grade class recess. We then found a space in the coat closet and proceeded to explore each other’s anatomy. This included groping and quite possibly some oral exploration. I guess we were just too excited and loud, or lost track of time, because when the teacher discovered us he immediately sent us outside to be with the other students. Now that I think about it I don’t recall any major disciplinary action at the time.

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

I came out to my parents officially at the age of 18. My Father responded as if it were a profound discovery, while my Mother responded as if she always knew. My Father was the better actor in the family. He too knew well in advance of my confirmation. Coming from a tight-knit family, my siblings also knew that I was the gay brother. I then felt so confident with my enlightenment and empowerment that I sought to declare to anyone who would listen that I was completely and totally gay.

My college years were the most rewarding, as I found others who were like me. During those early college years I found groups of homosexuals who got together socially and created a bonding force that stabilized my appreciation for myself. The coming-out process continued throughout the years as I moved from Ohio to Illinois and began working in a few different fields of employment.

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

The troubles I faced as a gay man were mostly job-related. I lost my left arm in 1974 at the age of 18 through a factory accident. Persons with disabilities during those years were considered to be objectionable; disabilities were a reason to further discriminate against and just plain be hateful toward others. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 changed the perception and litigation opportunities for most disabled persons. That single set of laws gave us ways to get others to treat us as equals.

My blackness was hindering being educated, articulate, intelligent, very good looking. African American men in this society and world community are extremely threatening on so many levels.

I have for as long as I can remember identified as a gay male, which also intimidates others because of the strength to be honest with myself. Most objections occur when one is secure with their own sexual identity and that sexuality is not conforming to the “norm.”

These combinations of race, sexual orientation, and physical disability all make it difficult to determine which causes my personal sources of discrimination.

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

No direct mentors to speak of. My early years were spent trying to help others realize that it was okay to like the same sex. The best news for me was when the psychiatric medical organization removed homosexuality from a list of medical oddities.

13) List organizations (GLBT or mainstream) you have been involved in.

Israel Wright Photographs, Inc.
Adodi Chicago and Adodi Midwest (board member)
Chicago Alliance of African American Photographers (board member)
Chicago Area Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (board member)
Chicago Black Lesbians and Gays (board member)
Chicago Black Pride 2006 (board member)
Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame Committee (board member)
Chicago 2006 (board member)
Gerber/Hart Library and Archives (board member)
Federation of Gay Games, Inc. (board member)
Horizons Community Services (board member)
Kupona Network (board member)
MidAmerica Fists In Action (board member)
Midwest Men’s Center of Chicago (board member)
Minority Outreach Intervention Project (board member)
Onyxmen, Inc. (board member)
Southside Health and AIDS Project/SHARP (board member)
Team Chicago (board member)
Windy City Black Pride (board member and volunteer)
Chicago Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (volunteer)
Chicago Gay Games VII (volunteer)
Numerous events for various organizations (volunteer)
Kevin’s Room I and II (donor)
Faces of AIDS Personal Stories from the Heartland (donor)
Human Rights Campaign Fund/HRC (donor)
AIDS Foundation of Chicago/AFC (donor)
I have also donated photography services/photographic images to many organizational fundraisers.

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

My induction to the gay bars in Chicago happened around 1975 and continues to this day. A short list of those I found to be the most fascinating and memorable were as follows: Baton Show Lounge, Broadway Limited, Carol’s Speakeasy, Chicago Eagle, Dugan’s Bistro, any of Frankie Knuckles’ Warehouse parties, Jeffrey Pub, Le Pub, Manhandler, Paradise, Sidetrack, Stop and Drink, The Caboose Lounge (at the IC train station), The Generator, The Gold Coast, The Loading Dock, The Loading Zone, The Ozone, The Rialto, The Ritz, The Snake Pit, The Waterworks, and Touché. And I know there were some others that tweaked my interest and exploration. The nightlife in Chicago was vibrant during the ‘70s, ‘80s, and early ‘90s. These were periods of discovery and revolution for many of us.

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

Our main issues involved the decision of whether to be identified as a gay man or not. There were no protections under the law. Discrimination was encouraged on many levels. Police raids were still going on in the gay bars, raids in the places where homosexuals gathered, and dangers of individuals disappearing with unexplained circumstances. Careers, lives, and jobs were destroyed because one chose to accept who and what he was. Discrimination happened in employment, housing, credit, and most forms of existence.

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

Gays and being gay has become so mainstream these days. I see most issues today centered around health concerns and the general survival in a society that is difficult for everyone. We as a society have developed laws and protections that allow for at minimum an equal starting point. It is definitely not 100% fixed, but well on the way toward becoming a more integrated society. The basics of life seem to be driving us rather than our sexuality. Society is more aware of and more accepting today than when I was a youngster.

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

Personally I have lost a considerable amount of friends and associates to the AIDS pandemic. Many of the men I ran around with would suddenly come up with strange illnesses or coughs that were never explained. Most died. AIDS was not clearly identified at that time. I remember when the medical folks were trying to define the sudden surge in illness among gay men as the popper cancer. The AIDS scare had not set in yet and the sex was still rapid without protections or awareness of a need to have protections.

Later, as the illness was defined and it became clear what we faced as gay men, the separation of services for white gay men vs. black gay men was also evident. Many of the black gay men wrote the illness off as a disease affecting only white men or at least those black men who choose to have white sexual partners. Today it is so evident that AIDS has no boundaries.

My most memorable experience was participation in a City of Chicago project through Frank Oldham, Jr. called The Faces of AIDS Personal Stories From The Heartland. I was brought in from the beginning to help develop and structure the program. As a photographer I was able to share my talents with the world my stories of folks impacted with the virus. Guess you can say I had experiences on so may levels with friends dying.

I have not escaped the ravishes of cancer as it affected members of my family. Although breast cancer was not the problem, any form of cancer is devastating to the individuals, loved ones, and family members. Breast cancer can be a truly bad experience.

A short list of those leaders within the AIDS activism movement who had
profound impressions on me include Ben Williams, Paul Adams, Danny
Sotomayer, Earnest Hite, Steve Wakefield, Armando Smith, Lorraine Sade
Baskerville, Derrick Hicks, Jim Harvey, and Michael O’Connor.

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

I think it is difficult for those who are not in touch with the end result of discrimination to wrap their minds around the concept of diversity. I am so not in sync with the definition of “diversity.” Depending upon who you are having the conversation with, the meaning of the word changes so much.

To me as an African American Disabled Gay male, diversity means that the table of opportunity has a seat at the table for me without strings attached. It means that my opportunities are the same as those accessible to anyone. It means that I do not have to constantly explain myself or my existence or a need for acceptance.

The definition and meaning of diversity carries with it many components. Disabled people see diversity as not being accepted for birth or accident anomalies. Women see diversity with an entirely different interpretation and may see the definition just as I do.

The entire idea of “privilege” gets clouded in the discussion when diversity issues are addressed. My most profound discovery that some viewed the situation differently was as a board member of Horizons Community Services. I sought to find a partner at the agency. I complained because there were no eligible black males there. I was quite unsatisfied as many of my white associates continuously connected with each other including establishing a partner relationships. The Executive Director invited me to join the board of directors and provide a direct input toward making those changes. Joining that aspect of the agency then placed me in a direct position to address my impressions of the lack of inclusiveness, or at minimum to discover why there was no direct participation from black folks and people of color. I was also asked to look directly into ways to diversify the agency.

It was a struggle on many levels from both sides of the equation, both inside and outside of the agency. A few years later the then-chair of the board of directors responded to me in a meeting concerning my disappointment that there was little or no support from my white counterparts to move the agency in a direction of inclusiveness with regard to diversity that he thought it was my issue and not that of others on the board. I think that agency and others have come a lot further these days.

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

I never really considered myself as a political activist, although my photography experience brought me in the mist of many political issues. As a photojournalist I had the opportunity to work with and to capture many of the political races in Illinois from 1999 through 2006. I did some direct campaign work with a number of candidates, including Ambassador Carol Mosley Braun, Mayor Harold Washington, and some aldermanic candidates. Most recently I volunteered for Barrack Obama’s bid to be the first black male senator from Illinois.

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

My contribution is that of participant first, then historian, an activist, an artist, and finally as a photojournalist. I have had the opportunity to capture the images of the Chicago Gay and Lesbian community for a number of years. Some of those now represent items which have a significant historic value and have been included in museums around Chicago.

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

My defining moment came when I realized that others were not as accepting toward me as a gay black disabled man. I had no problems with it so it was a matter of creating a change in those I encountered to see the differences and similarities that allow us to work and socialize together.

22) Additional comments and memories.

The years I have been in Chicago have been one of watching a city, society, and neighborhood change. Sometimes it has been for good while disappointingly it also includes some disgusting times.

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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