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Mary York dead at 52. Notes from a 2007 interview
by TRACY BAIM
2008-01-30

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#1 Mary York. Photo by Hal Baim. #2 York ( right ) and legal partner Rosemary Mulryan pose with Mayor Richard Daley after being inducted into the Chicago Gay & Lesbian Hall of Fame in 2004. Photo by Tracy Baim. #3 Mary York ( right ) with life partner LeGenia Bailey. Photo by Tracy Baim.

____________

Chicago attorney Mary York died Jan. 23 after a long battle with renal cancer. She was 52.

York was among the most respected attorneys in Chicago, serving as legal support and advisor to countless gay and lesbian individuals, organizations and businesses. As part of the firm Mulryan and York, she was inducted with her legal partner Rosemary Mulryan into the Chicago Gay & Lesbian Hall of Fame in 2004.

York also volunteered her time extensively in the community, including as president of the board of the Lesbian Community Cancer Project. She also served on the board of the Heartland Alliance for Human Rights and Needs, and for more than 15 years provided legal services without charge to such organizations as Gerber/Hart Library, Horizons, Mountain Moving Coffeehouse and many more.

Mary York was also the attorney for 20 years for Outlines and when Outlines purchased Windy City Times in 2000, York oversaw the merger.

Mulryan and York opened in 1989 and they were among the first firms to be openly lesbian-owned. Their focus is on LGBT families, relationships and institutions, and also real estate issues. York gave advice and also lobbied for legal change, and also served as a role model for many law students and community activists. The firm also donated time to many people living with HIV/AIDS, to help plan their estates.

During York's long battle with cancer, LaGenia Bailey ( her partner of more than 10 years ) and many friends and family members rallied to help her.

'My heart is broken but through your support and love we will be sustained during this time,' Bailey wrote to friends the night York died.

'I met Mary in 1985 at a party and we immediately clicked,' said friend Mary Morten. 'Her wicked sense of humor and huge heart are just two of the many, many gifts she gave us. Her commitment to LG, her family and friends and this community was beyond compare. She was with me for some of my most important life moments. Her light will be greatly missed, but never forgotten.'

Mary York was preceded in death by her mother, Arlene York. In addition to her loving partner LaGenia Bailey, she is survived by her father Alvin York, sister Cindy ( Larry ) Eichler and brother John York; niece and nephew, Stephanie and Jason, and six grandnieces and nephews. She was also the godmother of John Henry and Beatrice. Her leaving will be felt by many but especially by LaCena and Lilburn Bailey, Rosemary Mulryan, Gary Morgan, Supie Dunbar, Mary Waterman, John Kimbrough and the Brown-Hunt Family.

Visitation and services were held this past week. Donations can be made to www.lccp.org, www.cancer.org, www.feedyoursoul.org and www.methodisthealth.com/foundation.

-----

As part of an ongoing Chicago Gay History Project I am working on, I was able to interview Mary York and LaGenia Bailey in September of 2007. Mary was weak from her cancer treatments, but she was in strong spirit recounting her legal practice, her hopes and dreams for the community, and her gratefulness of the support she had received from the community. Following are a few excerpts from that video interview, which will be posted in full when the Chicago Gay History Project Web site launches this summer.

ON BEING GAY: 'I was definitely a tomboy and I knew, when I was about age 13 or 14. that I had a preference for girls and it was very. very strong and I had my first girlfriend at 14. I used to get confused and think that, I was really, I was gonna find out at some time that I was a boy. I didn't understand the sexual things that were going on in my body and I had a lot of gender confusion as to whether I was a girl or a boy … I didn't identify more with boys but I identified more with the structure, the clothing, what they could do, the opportunities they had versus the roles for girls.'

EDUCATION: 'I got my BA at Barat College in Lake Forest. It was an all-women's Catholic school and I went there from 1974-1978 and that was a magical time, I was able to come out, really come out in college and there were a lot of lesbians there and the nuns were actually pretty supportive and looked the other way. At the end of college I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do so I decided I wanted to go to law school kind of at the last minute. … I knew I wanted to be self-employed but I wasn't quite sure how.'

THE BARS: 'I'm sorry to say, I spent so much time in the bars, as far back as 1977, 1976 when I was in college … we used to come down to Chicago and we'd go to Petunia's, Marilynn's, Lost & Found, Augies, CK's. … [ There ] were a lot of women's bars at that time and that was the community. The stereotypes, the roles, the gender roles were much more defined. Then, women were either butch or femme. … Because I was younger I really didn't get involved in it too much and I wasn't a part of it but I certainly recognized it and saw it.'

LEGAL WORK: 'I didn't start out identifying myself as a lesbian firm. I was a lesbian, I wasn't sure how to market myself, I wasn't sure what my identity should be. I started out on my own in 1987 and [ Rosemary Mulryan ] joined me in 1989 and of course we were 'partner' partners, we were life partners and business partners and I think at that point then we decided to become more active in the community and identify ourselves as a lesbian-owned firm. I started to get more involved in the community, she got involved in the Gerber/Hart Library, and I kind of stayed out of structured activities in the community, I mean, we gave to the community, we gave back to the community, we gave legal services to certain organizations or provided legal services to people in need particularly during the time of the AIDS crisis.'

HIV AND AIDS: 'I started practice in 1987, but actually I was doing some side work from 1983 on … and it just seemed that like all of a sudden the shit hit the fan and men were dying left and right and I had clients who I'd done some estate planning for and suddenly they were very, very ill [ with HIV and AIDS ] . I had a dear friend who got very ill, at the forefront of AZT. He got very ill one fall and lost about 30 lbs and we really thought we were going to lose him. He was the one person I was so so close to and I thought 'Oh my God I just can't lose him,' but … actually a client of mine was a specialist in infectious diseases at Rush and I just hooked [ my friend ] up with him … and he has been his patient ever since … and he just turned 63 this week and he's not only alive, he's thriving. [ For ] so long there were so many people who didn't make it, who didn't have access to those drugs and it was a scourge upon the community.'

PROGRESS: 'I think we've made great progress [ legally ] between the time I first started my practice and the time I first got involved in the community. … We have a 'place at the table'. We didn't have that back then, we were out on the fringes, we were trying to get recognition, we were just trying to make ourselves known and visible and be heard and now I feel l like we really have a place and we have a lot to negotiate. I'm very concerned that we do this in the right way, that we not implode from infighting, that we don't become a reflection like the rest, a microcosm of the rest of society where we're infighting and have corruption just like other sub communities. People of [ my nephew's ] generation, they don't care what sexuality you are, they think you are a person and see you as a person and that, to me, I think is very exciting and with time all things are going to heal and we're going to have the equality, the full equality that we're entitled to.'

LCCP: 'I first got involved in the Lesbian Community Cancer Project around the time that they incorporated it, and I think I was at one of the first meetings with Nancy Lanoue, Suzanne Krause, Corrine Kawecki, and others, who founded that organization, Lesbian Community Cancer Project. That was about probably 1989 or 1990 because I remember having the meeting in my office, in my law office. I was very excited and at the time they seemed hopeful and at the time they seemed energetic. … So I helped them incorporate and I really didn't get involved with them until I went on the board. Jessica Halem was the executive director and she kept bothering me to join the [ LCCP ] board and finally worked me down and I agreed to do it. I had never served on a board before, I didn't think I was board material, I didn't think I played well with others, rather, I was more then a benevolent dictator so that was a learning experience for me.'

ILLNESS: 'I was diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney cancer in April of 2006, so I spent most of 2006 in and out of the hospital, I had to have … my kidney removed. They removed the gall bladder and certain other lymph nodes surrounding it and it had already spread to my lymph nodes so at that point, I'd had the [ kidney removed ] and I was recovering from that and had gone on a little vacation and came back and in August, then had a further test and they'd found it had gone to my bones, so it spread very, very quickly. Renal cancer is an extremely vicious cancer, and it's a very aggressive cancer and it just doesn't stop. … When [ the original treatments ] stopped working, my partner and I had decided that we had to have a Plan B, and the Plan B was to go to Houston Texas, there was an oncologist there who specializes in renal cancer. [ They ] put me into a clinical trial program … My partner has seen me through this and if it were not for her, I would not be alive at this time, I can honestly say that and I can honestly say what it's like to 'owe someone your life'. I truly know what that's like. [ Our ] friends in the gay and lesbian community have been so incredibly supportive during all of this.'


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