Vernita Gray, longtime GLBT advocate, among Cook County layoffs
Community activist and GLBT advocate Vernita Gray is among more than 100 members of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office who were laid off due to budget cuts this week.
Gray posted about her dismissal on her Facebook page Feb. 11. "It was an incredible job as GLBT liaison for the past 10 years and victim witness coordinator for eight years," Gray wrote. "It was my privilege to serve the people of Cook County and my dear GLBT community."
Employees were notified of the layoffs beginning Feb. 9. The office anticipates a 10-percent reduction in spending after the county board votes on a budget this month, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Gray had been serving with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office for several years. She began as a victim-witness coordinator, working with victims of hate crimes, then was promoted to LGBT liaison and charged with community outreach about hate crimes and other issues pertaining to violence.
The history of her activism is well known throughout the Chicago GLBT community. Invigorated after attending Woodstock in 1969, she set up one of the city’s first gay information hotlines from her Hyde Park apartment, and helped organize Chicago’s first pride parade. She also was a founder Lavender Woman, the city’s first lesbian newspaper.
At an "Out at CHM" talk she gave at Chicago History Museum in 2007, Gray said that in the early days of her activism, she was the last person anyone would expect to take up gay rights.
"I kind of looked like Condaleezza Rice," she said.
Gray has also been active in a number of community organizations, among them Equality Illinois, Chicago Horizons (now Center on Halsted) and the Task Force on Aging, AARP’s advisory committee on GLBT issues. She was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1992 and presented with the Jon-Henri Damski Award in 2010, among many other community awards.