Janice Layne



1) Birthdate:


2) City/state where you were born:

Chicago, Illinois

3) Education:

Dominican University aka Rosary College

4) Career:

Was born a writer; Career Human

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

A Woman who loves Women

6) Describe when you first “knew”:

I can never remember not liking girls. As a child I liked girls and boys equally.

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

When I first started writing in the gay press, I used the name Jess Livingston. Later, I used my nickname, Jano.

I was “outed” by my first official girlfriend. We had broken up and she called my sister and my sister’s best friend so they could console her.

When I was 15, I told my mother I wanted to go to “that parade.” I showed her the ad of a drag queen as a majorette in the Sun Times. She would take us almost anywhere we wanted to go. So that Saturday, we get on the train and get off on the Belmont stop. It seemed we had missed the parade but I found I had the wrong day. I was so bummed out. The parade was the next day, on Sunday.

My mother said that she would bring me back but I told her it was okay. We walked around the neighborhood and went into shops. At that time it was not called Boystown, it was called Newtown, and there were some great boutiques. Then I saw a gay publication and I wanted to pick it up but I was scared. She told me, “Go ahead.” I ran over, picked it up, looked at it briefly and tossed it in the garbage can.

I think my mother knew about my sexual orientation before I did.

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

I went to a Catholic all-girls’ school. I really wanted to go to a co-ed, public school but my mother would not let me. I was pretty popular at school but I was still challenged about my sexuality and there were rumors about me. It was what adolescence is all about.

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

I did not have the “take me by the hand” mentors but someone I admired at 19 and admire at 48 is Patricia McCombs. On so many levels she challenged me just by her being vocal, sexually expressive, gregarious, warm, and inviting. I always said that Pat McCombs owned her pussy. She empowered so many people by being outlandish, crass, vulgar, disturbingly erotic, and politically incorrect. Pat never looked for the approval of the granola, Birkenstock crowd. For many of the African American women I saw when I first came out, being a lesbian meant bad fashion and an almost denial of the hair salon and James Brown. Pat McCombs was not like that.

Pat and her friend Harriet Robinson first showed me pictures of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. There were naked women in those pictures looking happy. I was so shy and had so many complex complexes; I could barely look at the pictures. I certainly could not imagine running around outdoors with my shirt off. At 19, I could barely look at myself in the mirror.

I always refer to myself as an Accidental Activist. I think Pat McCombs is an Accidental Leader. On the other side, Pat is intellectually brilliant. She taught special needs children, was a certified masseuse, and at one time knew how to work on motorcycles and was a board game master. I think all she wanted to do was to have fun, be around pretty women, and have a quality life. I think her social activism has been a result of those basic wants.

10) List organizations you have been involved in:

Literary Exchange (founding member)
Affinity (board member and volunteer)
Yahimba (member)
Chicago Black Lesbians and Gays/CBLG (volunteer)
Nightlines, Blacklines, and Windy City Times (column writer)

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

I loved going to the Warehouse; Wednesday nights at Jeffrey Pub; and the D.J. Sheron Webb parties. I also had a chance to go to a bar called Marilyn’s before it closed.

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

Race—The Color Line.

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

Race and apathy. There is also a painful generation divide. But I always say that the GLBT community is a chip off of the old block: the straight community. We are not worse and we certainly are not better.

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

When I was 17 years old, my mother died of uterine cancer. I was a senior in high school. Because her mother had died when she was a child, she really wanted us to know how to operate in the world. We had a great relationship. As devastating as that was, the impact of her illness was not nearly as bad as the impact of our poverty. We were able to see, first hand, how life was different if you had means.

The quality of your care and the quality of hospice was a world of difference. There were times, during that period, that we were lucky because we were very literate, knew how to ask questions and be assertive. But that still did not change the fact that we lived in a one-bedroom apartment, and could not make the kind of provisions that would have dramatically changed her end-of-life experience.

Poverty is the worst disease I’ve ever seen.

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

We are Them. Chicago is segregated, the GLBT community is segregated. Chicago has normalized racism, so has the GLBT community.

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

I feel that I am just beginning to manifest my personal legacy and do more of the work that I was born to do. That work is to help teach humans how to be human. I feel that somewhere along the way the gun and the fist have become our surrogate parents. We live in a society that propagates Bully-ism. That’s from the White House to driving on the Dan Ryan Expressway. Our collective memory on how to be humans, these higher thinking animals, is becoming even more vague. It has to be turned around.

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

It is 1993 and I am standing on the street named after Martin Luther King, Jr., 30 years after his historic March on Washington. I am off to the side of a group called the Ad Hoc Committee of Proud Black Lesbians and Gays, preparing to walk down that street in the Bud Billiken Parade, aka the Back to School Parade, in front of thousands of black people as a “gay” woman.

It took so much to bring us to this moment. In the summer of 1992, leaving a Yahimba Meeting (a group for Black women on the South Side of Chicago), I suggested to a few women, including Karen Hutt, that we should March in the Bud Billiken Parade the following year. Some women within earshot said that that would not include them because they would be at Michigan Womyn’s Festival and would not be around.

The next year, Karen Hutt took action on it by sending in an application to the Bud Billiken Charities so that we could be a part of the parade. The name of her group on her application was Ad Hoc Committee of Proud Black Lesbians and Gays.

I decided, just in case, to send in an application, too. The name of my group was African American Role Models. In the description, I wrote that we would dress as doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, etc. I filed my application after Karen filed hers and I had mine notarized.

Karen was notified that she had filed her application too late.

I got the call from them telling me that we had been accepted to the parade. We had the makings of a potential lawsuit.

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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