Damski is also considered the first gay columnist in the American Midwest to publish under his real name and photo, starting in January, 1979, when no legal protections existed in the city of Chicago to give one recourse if fired from a job, or forced from housing, due to sexual orientation. Damski's epigrams, columns and poetry have been gathered in several collections and anthologies (see "Damski and Firetrap" section, below).
Jon-Henri Damski was considered one of the people most instrumental in helping to pass Chicago's Human Rights Ordinance in 1988, which granted protections in jobs and housing to members of the gay and lesbian communities within the city. In this campaign, Damski worked closely with activists Arthur Johnston (Damski's close friend and benefactor), Rick Garcia, and Laurie Dittman; working under the auspices of the organization Gay and Lesbian Town Meeting, the quartet became widely known as the "Gang of Four." Damski was considered especially influential in securing support for the Human Rights Ordinance from conservative aldermen who had in the past opposed the bill. In 1990, Damski worked to pass Chicago's hate crimes ordinance. In 1991, Damski was inducted into the City of Chicago's Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame for his years of writing and his activism. In 1997, Mayor Richard M. Daley and the City Council presented Damski with a Proclamation for his two decades of service to the city of Chicago and its gay, lesbian and transgendered communities.
Damski had been diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 1993. After 7 surgeries, in mid–1997 the melanoma had metastasized to his lungs and liver. Damski refused an experimental treatment, telling friends and readers he wanted to maintain his quality of life, a clear-head and the ability to write during the last months of his life. He wrote weekly until he collapsed in late October, 1997—having unknowingly written his 20th anniversary column and one more for the road, both of which were published posthumously.
Gay Chicago (1977–1982): Damski worked with Ralph Paul Gernhardt and Don DiLeo on Gay Chicago. Gernhardt had been on the original staff of GayLife newspaper. DiLeo had worked as a typesetter for the Sun-Times. Gay Chicago began as Gay Chicago News in 1977, modeled after Gay Community News weekly out of Boston. In April 1978, Gay Chicago News became Gay Chicago Magazine.
GayLife (1982–1985): In 1982, Damski moved his column to GayLife, where it appeared on the front page and he got a "substantial pay raise." But best of all, he would later write, he began to work under the editorship of Albert Williams. Williams encouraged Damski to expand his columns to cover more about Chicago politics, including the divisions within the gay community between supporters of Mayor Harold Washington and former Mayor Jane Byrne, as well as the efforts by members of the gay community to win support from the politically divided Chicago City Council for passage of a long-pending gay rights bill.
Windy City Times (1985–1995): Damski began writing for Windy City Times in its first issue, October 3, 1985 under the heading JHD. He remained with the paper after the 1987 death, from AIDS, of his friend Bob Bearden. He stayed with the publication almost ten years, until being fired abruptly late in May, 1995, by publisher Jeff McCourt.
Outlines and Nightlines (1995–1997): Jon-Henri Damski announced his column's re-emergence in Nightlines on June 21, 1995. A new weekly column, "Queer Thoughts and Mini-Essays," began on July 5, 1995 in Nightlines, and JHD continued on a monthly basis in Outlines, its sister-publication with the July, 1995 issue. Nightlines and Outlines were edited and published by Tracy Bain, an alumnus of GayLife and Windy City Times (which she would eventually purchase and publish, as well).
Nothing Personal: Chronicles of Chicago's LGBTQ Community 1977-1997 by Jon-Henri Damski
Paperback: 480 pages
Publisher: Firetrap Inc.; 1st edition (August 23, 2009)
Amazon: Nothing Personal: Chronicles of Chicago's LGBTQ Community 1977-1997
As a columnist in Chicago's gay and lesbian press between 1977 and 1997, Jon-Henri Damski chronicled a crucial period in the history of the 'Second City's' LGBTQ community. His articles in a series of newspapers and magazines charted the lives of people at all strata of the queer world, from street kids to politically connected power brokers. He covered the rise of LGBTQ political power and self-empowerment, the hard-fought and victorious campaign to pass gay-inclusive Chicago Human Rights Ordinance, the tough realities of physical and emotional violence in relationships, and the tragedy of AIDS; but his eye--the eye of a street poet, a beat reporter, and a historian--was always focused on the human face of great events. Influenced by classical literature, the Beat movement, and writers ranging from Walt Whitman and Nelson Algren to Jean Genet and Camille Paglia--and the real-life conversations he heard on the streets and in the bars, bathhouses, park bushes and all-night diners--Damski provided a compassionate, drily humorous, sexy and insightful account of the world in which he moved.
Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City's Gay Community edited by Tracy Baim
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Agate Surrey (September 1, 2008)
Amazon: Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City's Gay Community
Out and Proud in Chicago takes readers through the long and rich history of the city's LGBT community. Lavishly illustrated with color and black-and white-photographs, the book draws on a wealth of scholarly, historical, and journalistic sources. Individual sections cover the early days of the 1800s to World War II, the challenging community-building years from World War II to the 1960s, the era of gay liberation and AIDS from the 1970s to the 1990s, and on to the city's vital, post-liberation present.
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