Michael Leppen

Survey


MICHAEL A. LEPPEN

1) Birthdate:

1952


2) Birthplace:

Waukegan, Illinois


3) City/state where you live currently:

Chicago, Illinois


4) Education:

Northwestern University (graduate school)
National Louis University (undergraduate)


5) Career:

Office executive/vice-president of The Hoover Management Company


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

No


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

Gay male


8) Do you have children and/or grandchildren?

No


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

In my teenage years.


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

I came out to my family when I was 30 years old. After 14 years of teaching and hiding in the closet, I felt it was time to be the “real me.” My entire family was told at the same time via a Federal Expressed letter… due to the fact that I could never get them together at the same time. All were accepting and have gotten better with time.


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

Hiding my true identity and feeling like I did not belong anywhere. Going to bars and gatherings with darkened windows, afraid to be seen with the people and friends I cared the most about.


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

Amy Maggio and David Slaughter


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

Center on Halsted (major supporter and volunteer)
About Face Theatre Youth Program (major supporter and volunteer)
In the Life Media (board member and volunteer)
About Face Theatre (board member and volunteer)
Gay Associated Youth (board member and volunteer)
Human Rights Campaign/HRC (volunteer)
Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund (volunteer)
Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation/GLAAD (volunteer)
Equality Illinois (volunteer)
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays/PFLAG (volunteer)
Desert AIDS Project (volunteer)
AIDS Assistance Program (volunteer)
Bonaventure House (volunteer)

Donor: Too many to name.


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

Carol’s and Christopher Street… during the Dark Ages.


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

Accepting oneself and being accepted by others.


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

Guaranteeing that all individuals who find their lifetime partners may partake of the civil rights currently only granted to the heterosexual community. The securing of the rights of the term "marriage" is a battle that would be fought by each couple within their own faith.

Working on changing laws so that the current system of heterosexism is not enforced by power as it is today.

Protecting the rights granted by our Constitution and Bill of Rights so that all citizens in all the states of this country have the same protected rights.

Working on changing people's hearts and knowledge so that homophobia would eventually disappear or at least diminish to almost nothing.

Working with our questioning youth, finding the way to balance their homosexuality and acceptance and identity.

Educating our community on the need to provide the guidance and direction for all of our youth. Providing support services for this group and their families as they work through this discovery.

Educating our abandoned youth, so that with our help and direction they will find a life more significant than living on the street, they will avoid prostitution and drugs, and never even consider suicide as an option.

Identifying the needs of our own aging population... where do we go when we no longer can live on our own or need added care? Providing more opportunities that will continue to enrich our lives and we go through the golden moments of our lives.


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

I have lost too many good friends and watched too many others struggle. I have worked hard to raise awareness and funds for many organizations within this country and outside of it. I am a prostate cancer survivor so far. My friend David Slaughter’s death was a big visible loss for me. His struggle with AIDS and the lack of caring by health community officials started my role in activism.


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

The GLBT community is its own worst enemy. Instead of pulling together we tend to divide within our own ranks. The dissention, nit picking, and lack of support for each other are our own undermining. We need to learn to come together, support all of our brothers and sisters, and create one strong union.


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

When I look at the terminology of "political activist" it makes me think of working to select the right leaders in our government... working on the various political issues of the day... campaigning and soliciting for votes. I have done some of that, but the heart of work is striving so that all citizens of this country have the same rights as their peers. This would not only include the rights granted by our Constitution and Bill of Rights but also the intrinsic rights of respect, honesty, and full acceptance.

I have worked on campaigns for getting legislation through both at the state and congressional level. I have co-chaired events for Equality Illinois, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Parents Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), and the AIDS Foundation, to name a few.

I have worked on committees for many organizations to provide adequate care and rights for the homeless, HIV/AIDS, education, and care on inner city children, hospital ministry, gay-associated youth issues, indigent families and their needs, and so on.

My field of interest is the betterment of society in all aspects of life for all individuals. Political activist? Maybe a better term is “human rights” activist.


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

That I have made a difference so that one day, any child can openly state that they are gay, live their life fully as a gay person, and never be traumatized by what others think or do. Also to have motivated this community to realize that pulling together anything is possible.


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

My own health issues – it was a defining moment when I realized that I no longer can keep going at the pace I’ve been going at, and maybe it is time to step down. My faith and spirituality is my energy and driving force that helps me to find the path that fulfills my life.


22) Additional comments and memories.

I want to remember Tracy Baim for her diligence and perseverance; Amy Maggio for her strength and willingness not to back down when it gets tough; Danny Kopelson for his ongoing work to make this community aware and participate in issues that concern us all; Keith Elliott for his vision and dedication to the cause; and Mayor Richard Daley for his unwavering support of our community.



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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