It’s December 2007, and Claudia is rubbing elbows at Boystown’s Rubin Gallery. Shockingly, the room is full of women. A gay, middle-aged professional and recent Pittsburgh transplant, Claudia has stumbled upon the Chicago Lesbian Brunch Group, a 480-member-strong social-networking org that last year began to unite white-collar gay women in the Chicago area who were uninterested in the bar scene. “It’s a much better alternative to meeting someone online,” Claudia says, “because you can just go and talk and, through a series of events, get to know someone and see if you’d like to get to know her better.” Claudia has been to 18 events; a gallery-hop is just one of them.
Kelly Z. (members asked to have last names withheld), a project manager for a telecom company, helped start CLBG. She came to Chicago three years ago from her native China via upstate New York. While she considers Chicago home, Kelly admits it can be a tough place for gay women, especially professionals, to connect. “At the time the group started, there were seven of us who just felt like it was difficult to meet anybody in bars,” Kelly says. “One person said, ‘Maybe we can meet every other week for brunch,’ and that’s how we started.”
A modest Yahoo posting, coupled with outreach to local media, caught the eyes of more than 30 women who joined the group for brunch at Joey’s Brickhouse in Lakeview. Word of mouth brought more women into the fold; soon, midday mimosas were no longer enough. “People started to say, ‘I want to do [an activity] which is not a brunch—what are you going to do?’_” Kelly says. In addition to gallery-hopping, theatergoing and social gatherings at venues like the Victor Hotel and the MCA, upcoming August events include camping and white-water rafting on the Menominee River, a hike and picnic in Busse Woods and an ice-cream social at Sweet Occasions.
By appealing to professional women, according to Kelly, CLBG acknowledges that women, especially older ones in the corporate world, may be more closeted than their male and younger counterparts. CLBG organizes events not in gay bars, which require a participant to be at least partially out, but in mainstream locations where members don’t have to announce their sexual identity. “We don’t want to force people to come out,” Kelly says. “We want women to feel like this is a place just to be themselves.”
CLBG isn’t alone: Based in Long Beach, California, Good Times Travel and Social Club likewise holds events at mainstream venues, although its emphasis is on age and ethnicity. In 2006, partners Jackie Barry and Shanta Barnes founded the for-profit, members-only national group (the fee is $45 a year) to fulfill their own desire to meet mature women of color, many of whom are still closeted. “There was a woman coming to one of our events in Arizona. She wanted to know if anyone was coming from her state,” Barry says. “Because if there was, she couldn’t come.”
Good Times organizes weekend getaways all over the country. One such outing will take place in Chicago the weekend of August 22–24 and will bring together gay women of color, both local and not. “If they’re a member and we hit their city, they can come and meet and greet and make a love connection,” Barry says.
Making connections is each group’s endgame. “It’s wonderful to meet 20 other women at a brunch and just chat for a few hours,” Claudia says. “I’ve made a couple of really good friends, which is what I was looking for.”