Robbin Burr


1) Birthdate:


2) Birthplace:

Tulsa, Oklahoma

3) Date you first mark as getting together with your partner Lisa Loudin:

Lisa and I celebrate February 14th as our “engagement day.” We have been seeing each other since that date, 2001. We are narrowing down a date for our wedding, which will occur in the fall of 2008.

4) City/state where you live currently:

Chicago, Illinois

5) Career:

Until June 30, 2007 I served as the first executive director of the Center on Halsted. Prior to Center on Halsted I was a co-creator and founding member of the American Airlines Rainbow TeAAm, the first dedicated LGBT marketing team for a Fortune 100 company.

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?

Our daughter is my daughter biologically. She is 22 years old and refers to my partner Lisa, her other mom, as “Bonus Mom.”

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

In approximately 1992, when I was with SABRE – then a subsidiary of American Airlines – I became very close friends with one of my work colleagues. He was the first openly gay person I had been around, and through our conversations he realized (before I allowed myself to realize) that I am a lesbian. Over a period of about a year he was there to listen, patiently answer my questions, and unashamedly talk about his life. One day he gave me a greeting card at the end of the work day and on the inside he had written, “I know. It is okay. We need to talk about it.”

I was mortified. I was married, nearly 40 years old, a church-going, Sunday-school-teaching mother of a small child. However, once I stopped running from the monster of shame, I realized it wasn’t chasing me. To him I owe such thanks for being out, honest and available…and I guess a big toaster oven! ☺

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

I’ve been extraordinarily lucky and I’ve never been harmed or felt threatened because of my sexual orientation. I can say, however, that when I first came out very late in life and was struggling to figure out how being a lesbian defined me as a 40-year-old woman, I tried on a “butch” look. Because of my stereotypical looks at the time, I believe I was treated poorly and discriminated against in very subtle ways. It always amazes me how differently people treat me now that I am back in heels and lipstick, as opposed to when I wore Doc Martens and no makeup.

11) Involvement in organizations (GLBT and/or mainstream):

Center on Halsted (first executive director)
Dallas Black Tie Dinner Committee (board member)
National Association of LGBT Community Centers (board member)
Samaritan House/Ft. Worth, Texas (board member)
National Center for Lesbian Rights (donor)

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

I moved to Chicago in 2004.

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

Few organizations protected sexual orientation in their non-discrimination clauses and even fewer had domestic partner benefits.

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

I think our community will be challenged more than ever to stop being competitive and find ways to collaborate. When we are able to effectively do so, we’ll be more powerful than ever to achieve equality. Important issues include civil unions/marriage, employment and workplace equality, housing issues, issues with GLBT aging, hate violence and bias crime, youth homelessness, health and well being issues, and more.

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

Over the years I’ve lost friends to AIDS and I’ve worked closely with folks who are HIV positive. This year I’ll ride my bike for the fourth time to raise money for AIDS/HIV issues.

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

In my opinion great chasms exist in between these groups. We are a community in many silos, with some communication between, but not enough. My last three years have been committed to building a Community Center that can be a tool to bridge some of these gaps and tear down the silos. My prayer is that Center on Halsted truly accomplishes its mission. The Center is proof that many people are interested in bringing down the walls of differences and instead building walls that help us find our commonality.

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

I’ve never described myself as an activist, but I often hear others refer to me that way. I just follow my tug and do what seems like the right and best thing to do.

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

I feel my personal legacy exists here in two ways. The first one is obvious and stands at the corner of Halsted and Waveland. As the first executive director, I’ve been honored and proud to be a part of bringing Center on Halsted from dream to reality. I’ll always feel that the bricks and mortar have a teeny bit of Robbin Burr in them.

The other legacy I am proud of is the pioneering work we did at American Airlines to create the first dedicated LGBT marketing team for a Fortune 100 company. When I helped create and launch the “Rainbow TeAAm” in 1996, we set a standard for corporate America, and with our early exemplary work, many companies have internalized equality for their employees and begun to tap the very brand-loyal LGBT consumer market.

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

When I was at American Airlines I was a part of the C.A.R.E. ( Customer Assistance Relief Effort ) team – employee volunteers who were dispatched to assist families in the aftermath of aircraft accidents. In 1994 I was a C.A.R.E. command center leader here in Chicago after an American Eagle airplane crashed near Merrillville, Indiana on October 31, 1994. I lived at the O’Hare Hilton for a month and worked closely with families who had lost the most important people in their lives in a flash of a moment.

This was my first C.A.R.E. activation and I was in the early stages of coming out. Nothing could have affirmed more powerfully to me the need to live authentically. From that moment forward I knew that I would prioritize my life around the people I love. I constantly remind myself each day to be in gratitude for all the blessings with which I’ve been surrounded. My journey has been extraordinary and made even more extraordinary because of my sexual orientation. I intend to take nothing for granted.

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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