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New gay rights group looks to educate Evanston

Sandie Elliott remembers when there were not as many letters in the phrase. The 60-year old Evanston native recalls when it was just "LGB," lesbian, gay, and bisexual.

The logo from the Evanston Pride website.

Sandie Elliott remembers when there were not as many letters in the phrase. The 60-year old Evanston native and ETHS graduate recalls when it was just “LGB,” lesbian, gay, and bisexual.

Now, new groups have been added, so the phrase is “LGBTQIA+:” lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, queer, intersex, asexual, and the “plus” sign which stands for not identified yet.

Elliott and 36-year old Rada Yovovich, another ETHS graduate, are board members of a new organization, Evanston Pride, which is holding a virtual town hall Tuesday night on Zoom.

The purpose of the meeting, Yovovich says, is to find out what issues the Evanston gay community (the word “gay” is used here as a placeholder for all the involved groups) thinks must be addressed.

The predecessor of Evanston Pride began in June, 2019, with a small effort along the Main Dempster Mile to acknowledge Pride Week nationwide, a recognition of the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, considered by many to be the political start to the gay rights movement.

But the coronavirus pandemic wiped out any chance of a parade or other activities last year, so the town hall is a restart for what Yovovich calls a “small grassroots organization” which she hopes will get larger.

You might think a progressive college town like Evanston would have many gay rights organizations, even going back decades. But Elliott and Yovovich say that’s apparently not the case.

Yovovich, who has her own diversity consulting business, says Evanston “has always had a progressive identity,” but sometimes, people “believe the right things but don’t always take the action.”

“Because Evanston is more inclusive and less hateful,” it may seem like there’s “less of a need for activism for survival.” But still, she adds, there are many issues to be examined.

One, for example, is intersectionality. One person can have multiple categories, such as black and trans. “When two marginalized identities overlap,” Yovovich says, “the abuse multiplies.”

Another example is words. “Queer” was once pejorative, an insulting term for gay, and it still can be insulting depending on who uses it. But in the context of LGBTQIA+, Yovovich says there has been a “reclamation of the term” by people “who are queer,” “There’s a lot of power challenging the status quo,” she adds.

Elliott says “we want to earn the trust” of those in the gay community. That’s why the “stated mission” of the group is to “elevate the voice” and support the needs of LGBTQIA+ individuals.

Certainly there is more awareness of gay rights issues now than in previous years. For example, Evanston/Skokie School District 65 will have an LGBTQ+ Equity Week in mid-April.

Still, Yovovich says, for the community at large and even for the gay community itself “a history lesson is very due.”

To find out more about the town hall meeting, go to evanstonpride.org

Jeff Hirsh

Jeff Hirsh

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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