Betty Tsamis

Survey


1) Birthdate:

1966


2) Birthplace:

Chicago, Illinois


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

February 23, 2007


4) City/state where you live currently:

Chicago, Illinois


5) Education:

University of Illinois at Chicago, BA
University of Denver, JD


6) Career:

Employment law attorney


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

No


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

Lesbian


9) Do you have children and/or grandchildren?

No


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

I always experienced special crushes on other women throughout my life but did not think this was anything "abnormal." In fact, I dated boys in high school even though I preferred to hang out with my female friends. When I was 17, I saw two men holding hands for the first time and was suddenly intrigued by the idea of "gay" people.

Following that incident, I read something in one of the major Chicago newspapers about Chicago's lesbian and gay community. Around that same time, I had also become friendly with a woman who took me to my first gay bar, Berlin. Upon walking in the door, I was completely mesmerized with the images of same-sex dancing and kissing. Several nights later, I went back alone and met a beautiful woman, Camille, who I later kissed. My first kiss with a woman! Well, I was hooked and I knew. Although Camille and I never dated, I never went back to dating men, and I proceeded to come out as a lesbian.


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

My friend from high school. She was not surprised at all. Then over the course of years, to friends and co-workers. The reaction was pretty positive.


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

I come from a conservative family of Greek Orthodox immigrants. My father, in particular, was extremely upset with me, and retaliated after I came out to him. What I mean by “retaliated” is he threw me out of our family business and cut off financial resources. It took years to mend the relationship with him.

Just prior to his illness and subsequent death three years ago, we sat around talking about me dating women, and he shared his dating advice with me. We had a lot of laughs and I cherish that last amazing conversation I was fortunate enough to have with him. With my mom, who is still alive, it's always been easy. She is one of the most tender, loving people I know, and for that I am thankful.


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

Tracy Baim! I met Tracy Baim during my coming out process and while she was with Windy City Times (WCT). I had written a short article that was published in WCT. I got to know Tracy and some of the other WCT people quite well at the time. I always respected her intelligence, judgment, talent, and professionalism. I followed Tracy when she formed Outlines and worked for the paper as an advertising sales representative. I am proud to say I have considered Tracy a friend and mentor all these years.


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

Volunteer and donor for the following:
Howard Brown Health Center
Gerber/Hart Library and Archives
Horizons Community Services
Lighthouse Foundation for the Blind
Make a Wish Foundation


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

Closet 1986-1988 and Paris 1988-1995.


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

Acceptance, visibility, and civil rights.


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

Legal recognition of GLBT unions, estate planning for GLBT couples, acceptance of trans persons, and trans workplace rights.


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

I have not personally known too many people who have had AIDS or died of it. However, I have been impacted by LGBT lesbian health issues especially now that my friends and I are aging.


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

First of all, the very term "GLBT" signals diversity. We have lesbians, bois, trannies, drag queens, gay men, bisexuals, etc. Then we have significant diversity within these sub-groups of the GLBT community. Thus, I think diversity is inherent within the many subcultures of our community, although our community is often accused of being polarized. The bottom line is you can't please all the people all the time and all you can do is your personal best within the framework of your own abilities.


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

I used to consider myself an activist but no longer do. I consider myself simply an enlightened and engaged citizen.


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

My personal legacy to the Chicago GLBT community is having worked within the legal system to help improve the lives of GLBT people. As an attorney and counselor at law, I have a tremendous amount of passion for equalizing the playing field between GLBT people and government/institutions and the workplace.


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

My father dying in June 2005 was a defining moment. He had bravely battled anaplastic thyroid cancer (ATC) for just under three months. (There is no effective treatment, and median survival is about three months – shorter for most people.)

My dad and I had tension in our relationship ever since I came out to him. Prior to his dying we began to reconnect, and had some pretty surprising discussions about love and about me being with women. As he died, he asked me to take care of my mother and older disabled sister.

This moment and the subsequent experience have been immensely defining as I have struggled with the responsibilities of taking care of a parent and sibling, in light of having felt like, at one time, the black sheep.



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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