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Organizer Imani Rupert Gordon On Finding Beauty and Working To Be More Thoughtful

Written by on June 28, 2019

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Chicago is a city known for its creative community of artists, activists and influencers. In our ongoing series, “This Is What Chicago Sounds Like,” we feature the voices and people who contribute to our city’s rich cultural diversity. This month, we celebrate Pride.

In this installment, we hear from Imani Rupert-Gordon, the Executive Director of Affinity Community Services, a social justice organization that promotes health and wellness, leadership development, and community building with an emphasis on Black LGBTQ+ women.

She sat with Jill Hopkins to talk Chicago dogs, falling in love, and working to be more thoughtful about intersectionality…


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Where are you from originally, and where in Chicago do you live now?

I lived in California in Santa Cruz, and was looking at going to grad school. I was talking to my, then girlfriend, now wife, and I was like, you know, what would it be like for us to live together. And she had mentioned that she really enjoyed her time going to grad school, but said if you move to a big city I’ll follow you anywhere. So I started looking at social work programs in really cool cities and that ended up in Chicago. When we first moved here we moved into South Loop, it was right between Hyde Park and Downtown. But two years ago, we moved to Bronzeville, and I absolutely love it. I love it. Love it, love it in Bronzeville.

What do you love about Chicago?

Being from California, I was used to having really nice weather, and I think there is something about having to work for your summers that you learn to love. I also think Chicago gets a lot of credit for deep dish pizza. It’s not unwarranted. But I think we don’t give enough credit to Chicago dogs. I remember when I had my first one, I had one every day for lunch for a week. And so definitely, I’m a fan there. But then also, I actually love just the difference in all of the different neighborhoods. I think that can get complicated too, because you see how resources are allocated differently in different neighborhoods. But there is so much beauty and so much difference in just a very small amount of space. That’s pretty beautiful to see.

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How has the city shaped you and your art, career, mission, etc.?

When I came to Chicago, I didn’t think that I would stay here the plan was to come out, be cold for a couple years and go back. But once we got here, just realizing that there’s so much to do, you know, the first job that I had after grad school was working at the Broadway Youth Center. At the time that I got there, that was my absolute dream job. Howard Brown does such a great job with the Broadway Youth Center. The work they do is… I mean, there’s, you know, less than a handful of places in the country doing the work the way that they’re doing it and doing it that well and I was so honored to have been been part of that. It didn’t exist other places. And now that I’m working at Affinity, I feel like this is my current dream job, and I don’t know any other organization in the country that specifically serves the needs of Black LGBTQ+ women. And so I feel like I’ve been able to be part of the movement and part of a community in a way that I wouldn’t be able to any other place, you know? That has definitely been because of my time in Chicago and I am eternally grateful for that.

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What has it been like living in Chicago as a member of the LGBTQIA community?

It’s hard for me to separate out, you know, my queer identity from anything else. But I feel very fortunate that I get to work in the movement. When changes are happening, I feel like that I am part of them. And I think that’s something that really impacts my experience. It’s hard to talk about trials without talking about marriage equality, because I remember when marriage equality passed in Illinois, it was two days before save the date went out to people. And so when people got our save the date, it was actually the day that marriage equality was announced, and that was a really beautiful time. But then also recognizing that that, you know, that’s not everything. I think something that’s challenging is, you know, thinking about so many communities that say, you know, well now that there’s marriage equality, what next? As if there aren’t so many other things that are next. Thinking about youth homelessness, LGBTQ+ youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness than their straight and cisgender counterparts. So that’s something to think about with violence in the community. It’s not something that gets enough attention, especially violence against transgender women of color black transgender women of color. There is so much more to do.

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How does the work you do give back to Chicago and LGBTQIA folks here in the city?

We serve the entire LGBT q population, we do it with an emphasis and highlighting the experiences of black LGBTQ+ women. It’s our thought that by working with the most marginalized or underrepresented groups within already underrepresented populations, that absolutely everyone stands to benefit from that. And that’s why we’re thrilled to do the work that we do there. You know, talking about intersectionality that’s a word that people use a lot. But I don’t think we’re always on the same page when we talk about what we mean to be intersexual, and an organization dedicated to look at the experiences based on sexual orientation, on race on gender identity, on geographic location, that’s some of the most intersectional work that can be done, and we challenge ourselves to continue to be more intersectional.

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At the end of the day, what would you like to have given back to the community?

I would like to be one of a large number of people in a growing number of people that push us to do our work more intersectionally. So many people think that when you work in an underrepresented community, that inherently sort of other intersections of identity to sort of fall away, you know, but racism and sexism and hetero sexism and transphobia, ableism, these things all exist in the LGBTQ community. They don’t go away because our community experiences oppression in one way and that means that everything else falls away or we’re just more thoughtful about it. Because the thing is, we’re not more thoughtful about it unless we work to be more thoughtful about it.


Follow Imani on Instagram

Shot by Seamus Doheny at Navy Pier