Bev Spangler


1) Birthdate:


2) Birthplace:

Columbus, Indiana

3) City/state where you live currently:

Near Lake Michigan on the Wisconsin border.

4) Education:

Indiana University, BA
Universidad Complutense (Madrid, Spain)
University of Kent (Canterbury, England)
Northern Illinois University (DeKalb), MFA
Loyola University, MSOD, MSTD

5) Careers:

Day job: Consulting
My calling/nights: Theatre writer/performer/singer.

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


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

“Female and a 5 on the Kinsey scale!"

8) Do you have children and/or grandchildren?


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

When I was 28 years old.

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

I came out to my first girlfriend in 1991. With the first kiss I knew, although it shocked me for a while thereafter - I was in fairly deep denial for the majority of my life up until then. I really had to work through a lot of internalized homophobia before I felt completely comfortable knowing I was gay.

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

Luckily I lived in a college town so on campus it was mostly safe, although when walking past a frat house once, some guys yelled “fucking dykes” at my girlfriend and I as we held hands. Off campus it was different: a nearby town was home to a major KKK group. My friends and I had an egg thrown at us once from a moving pick up truck. It completely ruined my suit. Another time a hardened ball of dough was thrown at us. It hurt a lot, felt more like a rock. Also once while off campus a friend of mine was punched in the face by a local guy outside a gay bar because he “didn't like her hair cut.’ So my first years actually had some pretty scary moments.

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

I've had so many since I first moved here in 1992. Whether from afar, as acquaintances, or as friends, I've admired people like Jackie Anderson, Kathy Munzer, Tracy Baim, Mary Morten, the women at LCCP, and the activist parents at PFLAG's Lakeview chapter.

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

Femme to Femme Chicago social group (co-founder)
President, Awaken! Theatre Company (board member and donor)
Lesbian Community Cancer Project/LCCP (volunteer and donor)
Howard Brown (volunteer and donor)
Center on Halsted (volunteer and donor)
Horizons (volunteer and donor)
Equality Illinois (volunteer and donor)
Sissy Butch Brothers (volunteer)
Mountain Moving Coffeehouse (volunteer and donor)
POW WOW (volunteer)
PFLAG Chicago (volunteer and donor)
V Day Chicago/V Day Southwest Vagina Monologues (volunteer)
AIDS Foundation (volunteer)
Human Rights Campaign/HRC (volunteer and donor)
Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund (volunteer)
American Civil Liberties Union/ACLU (volunteer)
Bailiwick Theatre Company (donor)

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

Paris, of course, until it closed.

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

I came out in 1991, AIDS was the predominant issue.

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

I would say legal rights and recognitions.

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

The first year I came out, which was 1991, a fellow actor in the theatre department died from AIDS very suddenly. It not only impacted me, but the whole department into a new level of activism.

Only months later, a local lesbian couple was diagnosed as having AIDS, which surprised a lot of people in 1991. They bravely talked to the local papers about drug abuse, sharing needles, how lesbians and straight people were not immune, how people treated them, etc. It shook the whole university and the surrounding town. We held many benefit performances for them and thereafter, for local AIDS organizations. Since then, I've always been an AIDS activist.

When I came to Chicago in 1992, there were many more ways to support health issues in the community: Lesbian Community Cancer Project (LCCP) was a new concept to me, but since my mother died of breast cancer at age 32, and I was at a higher risk for the disease myself, I easily heeded the call to support them as well as Howard Brown, the AIDS Foundation, and Horizons among others.

Over the years, many of my lesbian and straight women friends have been diagnosed with various forms of cancer. Some have survived and some have not. As far as I'm concerned, there's always work to do and – being cancer-free so far – I feel privileged to do it.

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

We are most definitely an eclectic community, as is the greater society at large. And I love that about Chicago. Yet of course as LGBTs we have our share of differences, misconceptions, and prejudices to overcome, like the greater society at large. We have to be proactive to fight against our prejudices, just like all human beings do. So in that way, LGBT Chicago isn't that different than anywhere else there is discrimination to address.

But having said that, and having had my friends in New York City, San Francisco, and even other parts of the world compare Chicago to where they come from, it seems Chicago has built at least a few bridges between our various subcultures. As an individual I certainly experience the LGBT community in Chicago that way and perhaps that's due to the company I keep.

Whenever I've volunteered with others at one of the many LGBT organizations I love, like LCCP, PFLAG, or Horizons, our focus is on a greater goal that affects us all as LGBTs. In working together with folks from all backgrounds, conversations start, tiny bridges are built, and sometimes friendships emerge where they might not have otherwise.

It's certainly like that for me in meeting with the women of Femme to Femme Chicago. The diversity in culture, language, national origin, religion, economic background has brought a lot of fun discussion and lively debate. I can't speak for anyone else, but I've learned a lot and felt honored to know and befriend so many of these extraordinary, eclectic LBT Chicagoans.

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

Although I've marched, written letters, given funds, supported organizations advocating LBGT issues, and supported certain pro-LGBT candidates, I don't consider myself in the same league as any of the political activists I admire most here in Chicago. I think I'm more of an "indirect" political activist, or activist "by extension." My activism "by extension" shows up as theatre writings and theatrical interpretations which are often politically themed – even if they are comedic or musical.

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

Oh my. I almost laugh at this. I don't have the right to say I have any legacy to leave. I've
hardly done anything truly powerful or lasting, and certainly not enough. Nowhere near enough, by my standard. I've only been active for 15 years or so, and moreover, not active enough in terms of impact. A personal legacy statement belongs to those who've really changed things: the Miranda Stevens-Miller, the Larry McKeons, the Vernita Grays, etc. I'm just a featherweight at this. Maybe if I continue what I'm doing for the next 50 years and make a true impact, I'll then feel I have a right to say “my legacy to Chicago is....” But now? No way!

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

Well, my defining moment is deeply personal but so common that its worth sharing. The only way I've come to be the person you've read about here is by finally overcoming some events in my early life that almost killed me.

It isn't exactly a defining moment but rather a series of defining moments that occurred in the two years just before I came out at age 28. Like too many people, I was the recipient of extreme violence at the hands of adults. I won't go into gory details because too many of us already know the details. Anyway, most of my life until 26 I was a mental mess. I almost didn't make it, and a lot of times I didn't even want to. Physically I stayed alive (for which I'm so grateful!) but inside I knew I was the walking dead.

It was weird watching myself live such a dichotomous life where all the over-achieving in the world wouldn't alleviate a feeling of constant deep despair, almost pure internal isolation, and intense loneliness. Of course, I felt like an impostor, like so many victims of violence do.

The important thing is that, with the help of others, I finally turned around at age 26 to face myself and those who perpetrated the violence. It took two years of some of the most arduous, sweaty work I've ever done in my life. Maybe I was a little worse-for-wear, but I started to “decontaminate” myself, like shaking off years of mud others had thrown on me. Uncluttered, lighter, I started to feel free enough to find out who I was meant to be before the violence. (I knew I wasn't meant to be what I was taught to be.)

When I finally emerged, I felt for the first time like I could start becoming myself – the person most people recognize as me today: a person able to love freely and openly, to give back, be out and proud, stay optimistic, and never stop persevering. But I wasn't always like this and telling this truth may be the most impactful thing I can share here. Now and into the future, I get to enjoy this unending process of just becoming me. I hope my defining moment inspires those struggling toward their own freedom to keep going, have courage, and feel a little less alone.

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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