On November 17, Chicago’s LGBT community lost a beloved leader when Lois Bates passed away at age 41, following a long illness. Her life, focused on service, faith and family, has been memorialized by many media outlets and community blogs in the past few weeks, including the Chicago Tribune, the Windy City Times and the Advocate.
Bates, a Black transgender woman, was raised on Chicago’s Southeast Side, one of four children, and a veteran of the Navy (having served in the Persian Gulf). After serving, she transitioned to live openly as a woman and began her advocacy work. She was diagnosed with kidney failure at age 26, had diabetes and was HIV-positive. Yet despite the fact that she faced these long-term illnesses, many describe her as a tireless advocate for the HIV-positive, transgender and LGBT youth communities.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Bates, a Black transgender woman, was “a fixture at Chicago's Howard Brown Health Center,” where she served as the coordinator of transgender HIV prevention services and created support groups for trans youth and adults. In this capacity, she was the lead facilitator of the country's first Centers for Disease Control and Prevention AIDS-awareness program specific to young transgender women of color.
"She was a sister to thousands of trans men and women," June LaTrobe, trans-community liaison at the Center on Halsted and a longtime friend of Ms. Bates, told the Chicago Tribune. "She was there to listen, to advise. She was a fierce advocate for the fair, equal and inclusive representation of trans people."
"I considered Lois to be the 'mother' of the African -American trans community as well a mother and a mentor to all," Helena Bushong, a transgender advocate, told the Windy City Times. "Lois was present for us in need of direction as we entered our 'authentic' lives. Lois was and shall continue to be an inspiration in my advocacy issues regarding the HIV aging population and the trans community. It is with Lois' grace of understanding, acceptance, guidance and unstoppable courage I am who I am today."
"I admired her because she was always very, very proud of who she was and what she did," Jamal Edwards, president and chief executive officer of Howard Brown, shared with the Chicago Tribune. "That is not a very easy thing to be, not today and certainly not five or six years ago when she came to Howard Brown, as a black, transgender woman. The way she stood up for herself and for the trans community and for the black community was fearless and, quite frankly, awe-aspiring."
In an interview with GLAAD, Frank Walker, Jr., founding director of Chicago’s Youth Pride Services, shared, “Lois was a regular donor to Youth Pride and attended all of our fundraisers. She was known to our youth through her service as the Secretary for Windy City Black Pride and because she taught a Trans 101 course at a summer youth program that our organization runs. From where I stand, she was the greatest trans advocate that Chicago has ever had. Her passing leaves a huge void in the community and in the lives of all the youth we work with.”
In addition to her work with LGBT communities, Bates was a licensed minister in Chicago’s Pillar of Love Fellowship United Church of Christ. "Even as she grew to know herself and identify herself as a transgender woman, she never stopped going to church and never stopped working on and continuing her relationship with God," Phyllis V. Pennese, founder and senior pastor of the church, told the Chicago Tribune. "The work Lois did was clearly ministry."
“The thing that was truly special about Minister Lois L. Bates was how well she integrated all the aspects of her life,” shared Pastor Anthony Sullivan, Jr. in an obituary he delivered at Bates’ funeral. “Her spiritual life, advocacy and organizing work, and relationships with her family, friends and the community at large held equal importance to her, and she was intentional about creating a world where they all could come together.” In an interview with GLAAD, Sullivan highlighted Bates’ ties to her family. “Lois and her mother Delores had a beautiful relationship centered on Delores’ complete love and total acceptance of Lois,” he stated.
Funeral services were held for Lois Bates on Monday. She is survived by her mother Delores and siblings Gloria, Eugene and Debra. GLAAD offers deep sympathies to her loved ones and all who loved her.