Joe Hollendoner


1) Birthdate:


2) City/state where you were born:

Alsip, Illinois

3) City/state where you live currently:

Chicago, Illinois

4) Education:

University of Illinois Chicago, BSW, Social Work, 2003
University of Illinois Chicago, MSW, Social Work, 2004

5) Career:

I presently work for Howard Brown Health Center as the Director of the Broadway Youth Center (BYC). In this position, I oversee the daily operation of Chicago’s most comprehensive center for LGBTQ youth.

The BYC’s programs include medical care, therapy, case management, HIV testing and prevention programming, GED tutoring and testing, vocational training and placement, mentor programming, support and social groups, basic need drop-in services, research projects, and youth leadership development opportunities.

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


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

Gay man

8) Do you have children and/or grandchildren?


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

I can’t really remember how old I was, which might indicate that I was always conscious of being queer. However, my first memory of questioning my sexuality was when I was about seven or eight and I saw a stereotypical character on television who my siblings described as gay. That was the first time that I made the connection that being gay was an identity and not just a negative label used to tease someone.

After that moment, I was able to place a label to what I thought that I might be and continued to be confused until I was either 15 or 16. At that point, I started to consider myself to be bisexual. Upon retrospect, I used the identity of bisexual to describe myself because I wasn’t ready to be considered non-heterosexual (nor did I think my parents were ready to hear that I was gay), but I eventually began to describe myself as gay when I was 16 – this was after I had my first kiss with a boy and knew that I felt something very different in that moment than when I had kissed a girl.

PS… My statement about thinking I was bisexual by no means implies that bisexuality doesn’t exist – I’m just not bi.

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

The first person I came out to was someone I met in an internet chat room when I was 16 years old. Today, I don’t even know who that person was, nor did we keep in contact after I disclosed my sexual orientation. I just remember how liberating it was to be in an anonymous chat room and disclose to another person that I was gay and to be accepted.

It wasn’t until after many months of frequenting chat rooms where I felt accepted did I actually come out to someone in-person. He was another young gay man who I met online and found out lived in a nearby suburb. We scheduled to meet each other at the local library and he eventually introduced me to a local LGBT youth drop-in program where I met more queer youth who were like me.

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

It’s funny, I can’t really remember any struggles that I’ve experienced since coming out. That isn’t to say that I don’t experience and witness homophobia, heterosexism, and transphobia on a daily basis. Rather, I just don’t recall any “troubles.” I think any troubles that I experienced in my life that were related to my sexual orientation were those experienced prior to me coming out, as the time before I came out was filled with complicated emotions and feelings of isolation. Almost as soon as I came out, I began living a life of honesty and self-respect which has led to very little drama or trauma.

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

Goodness, where do I even begin!?! I think what is fair to say is that the reason I didn’t have any struggles in my coming out process was that I was surrounded and supported by some of the most amazing LGBT adult allies. Just to name a few… Toni Armstrong, Jr. (founder of GLSEN Chicago’s youth work); Curt Hicks (Cook County HIV Prevention Coordinator); and Gloria Franklin-Piette (coordinator of my first LGBT youth drop-in program).

These adults created a space for me where I could talk about my experiences as a young gay man, learn new skills that allowed me to become a leader within the LGBT community, and shared stories of LGBT history with me which I never heard before.

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

Aunt Martha’s Youth Service Center (HIV Prevention program coordinator)

Howard Brown Health Center (director of the Broadway Youth Center, manager of Youth Services, and HIV Prevention program coordinator)

GLSEN Chicago (program coordinator, strategic planning chair, youth committee chair, and scholarship recipient)

Coalition for Education on Sexual Orientation (youth chair)

About Face Youth Theatre (Michael Leppen Community Leader Award)

Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association/CMSA Softball League (member)

Chicago HIV Prevention Planning Group (member)

Illinois Safe Schools Alliance (board member and Youth Committee chair)

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

The Edge in Blue Island, 2003.

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

The issue facing my generation related to the LGBT movement was the issue of creating safe schools for students and teachers who identified as LGBTQ. During the mid ‘90s, the LGBT safe schools movement began in response to the harassment and violence LGBTQ school community members experienced. The movement was a national one that resulted in Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) student clubs forming within schools across the nation; GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, was at the helm. GSAs created spaces where LGBTQA students could gain support and also create change within their schools.

Since the movement began over a decade ago, it has experience great success and growth! I can recall attending one of the first networking events of GSAs within Chicago and there were no more than 20 students in attendance; today there are now more than 60 students attending similar events.

I think because of the work of my mentors and peers in this movement, there will come a time when it will be a given that LGBTQ students will have every right that non-LGBTQ students have, and that future GSA leaders won’t have an understanding of just how difficult and innovative this movement was for the first wave of students who led it in the early ‘90s.

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

Today, I think the LGBT community is faced with the daunting challenge of LGBTQ youth homelessness. Studies site that more than 40% of youth experiencing homelessness are LGBTQ-identified, with most citing being kicked out by their parents/guardians, running away from home, or being unsuccessfully discharged from foster care program as the reason they are homeless.

However, despite such a significant number of LGBTQ homeless youth, there is limited capacity to shelter youth in general, let alone creating safe housing options for LGBTQ youth. I think this is an issue that the LGBT community is beginning to address nationally and locally, but I fear that the issue will be unresolved until additional federal funding is made available to expand current youth shelter programming; shelters are held accountable to providing same housing for LGB and, particularly, transgender youth; and interventions are done with families so that they don’t kick out their LGBT children – and/or LGBT youth don’t feel the need to run away because of their sexual orientation/gender identity.

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

It’s interesting; AIDS created community for me. When I first came out, the first real support that I received was from an LGBT youth drop-in program in the south suburbs of Chicago which was funded by HIV/AIDS prevention dollars. Without that program, I imagine that I never would have gone down the career path or have been as involved in the community as I have today.

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

This is a really complicated question to answer. My basic stance on this issue is that we as a community have to do a better job of multi-issue organizing. It is important for us to fight for our equality as a queer community, but that equality also includes being involved in other movements like immigration rights, affordable health care, housing, disability rights, etc.

Additionally, I think we need to do a better job of celebrating and including the transgender community. I often think the “T” [in LGBT] isn’t very well understood, and that we all have a responsibility to cultivate an understanding and acceptance not only in our local community, but also in the national LGBT community.

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

I don’t consider myself to be political. I think the issues I work to advance are political, but my skills lie in the programming side of this work.

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

Thinking about my personal legacy at the age of 27 seems a bit overwhelming (and premature). However, if I were to describe how I’ve impacted Chicago’s LGBT community, it would be that I was one of the first gay youth respected/entrusted enough by the adult LGBTQ that they were willing to share their power with me so that I, in turn, could share it with my peers in order to create genuine youth leadership within Chicago’s LGBTQ movement.

Some of my proudest accomplishments as a youth leader within Chicago have included overseeing the opening of the Broadway Youth Center, founding Youth Pride Weekend, being the first youth on the board of GLSEN Chicago, organizing Chicago’s first city-wide Day of Silence action, and starting the SYNERGY youth dances. I am so proud of these efforts because I know that the work I did towards achieving these accomplishments have resulted in sustainable change that will forever exist within Chicago’s LGBT community.

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

The greatest defining moment in my life was when I attended an LGBTQ youth drop-in group for the first-time. I remember being so nervous about going and thought that this would undoubtedly lead to me being outed at school; however, that single event forever changed my life’s trajectory. Because of my participation that night (and for the next three years), I was provided with a safe space where I learned skills that would keep me healthy and safe as a gay man, received opportunities to become a leader that shaped what I wanted to do with my life, and developed lifelong relationships that have provided me with unconditional support.

Sometimes I find myself wondering what would have happened to me had I never attended that support group and, truthfully, I can’t imagine how my life would have turned out – maybe I would have become a dentist rather than a social worker; maybe I wouldn’t have come out to my family until much later in life; or maybe I would have become HIV-positive or homeless. Regardless, I consider myself very fortunate that I had that opportunity and appreciate all those who made such a group possible.

22) Additional comments and memories.

I’d like to acknowledge my colleagues at the Broadway Youth Center. I can’t imagine another time in my life when I’ll be surrounded by such passionate, caring, intelligent, diverse professionals who have taught me so much and who have done so much to better the lives of the youth and communities we work with.

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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