A Web Portal For Lesbians Of Color
Renae Ogletree has been a community activist for over 15 years and was the co-founder of Chicago Black Lesbians and Gays. She is currently the Mayor’s Project Director for the Youth Services Division in the Department of Human Services and manages a budget in excess of $25 million.
She emphasized that community-based organizations and neighborhood constituencies, as well as top city leaders, need to be involved in shaping the vision and building out-of-school opportunities. Ogletree underscored the risk of undermining existing community-based delivery systems when top-down or outside-in mandates fail to recognize existing community strengths. Ogletree, urged schools and public officials to look to community-based providers for expertise in supporting young people's development.
Feisty black lesbian Renae Ogletree, argues that "the gay environment and its politics are very controlled by white, gay men and it would be a compliment to say they're even mildly interested in issues of concern to black folk. They're interested in gay marriage, we're interested in housing and employment. We not only have to fight to be at the table, we have to make sure we get the same damn food, or that they haven't co-opted one of us, or that they haven't had the real meeting beforehand." Ogletree points out that the Rocks, the annual black lesbian and gay festival held on Gay Pride Sunday at Belmont Harborm, which draws 20,000 people and is regularly frequented by black politicians, there is no recruiting by any white-led gay organizations ("They're intimidated," she chuckles).
Self-described as “a bridge person between groups and individuals,” Renae Ogletree has engaged in wide-ranging volunteer and professional activities that have brought people together around issues of diversity, development, and health care within Chicago’s gay and lesbian communities. She is recognized as a leader who can bring together disenfranchised groups with the goal of integrating their perspectives in those of the larger community—a recognition that is reflected by her 1997 award from the Chicago Commission on Human Relations.
Ogletree has demonstrated her leadership talents by identifying, confronting, and helping to resolve issues concerning diversity in the planning and execution of AIDS Walk Chicago, and she has organized educational conferences to create opportunities for others in her role as a board member of Yahimba, a networking organization for lesbians of African descent. She has also participated in the National Black Lesbian and Gay Leadership Forum and on the Chicago Police Department’s 23d District Gay and Lesbian Advisory Committee.
Ogletree cofounded and co-chairs Chicago Black Lesbians and Gays, an organization that aims to make lesbian and gay Chicagoans more visible in the city’s African American community. She played an active part in planning the four Unity Conferences that have been held since the group’s inception. After recognizing a need to establish a safe, supportive environment in which lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered Chicagoans could discuss issues of race and class, she also served as a founding member of The Color Triangle. And she has served as an organizer of the annual Pride Sunday event at Chicago’s Belmont Rocks, where thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered African Americans gather to celebrate strength and unity.
As a health care activist, Ogletree has confronted issues of class, race, and sexual orientation. For example, she has brought black churches into discussions on homophobia and HIV and AIDS. She serves on the Lesbian Community Cancer Project board of directors, helping to ensure a supportive environment for lesbian health care.
Professionally, Ogletree has more than 30 years of leadership experience in serving youth and has done so through the Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago, the Better Boys Foundation, and Chapin Hall Center for Children. She is now executive director of the Chicago Youth Agency Partnership. She has helped to open a shelter for homeless youth, consulted with the Chicago Park District on services infrastructures, and conducted research and grants work for the Chicago Community Trust.
Most recently, she has led a YouthMapping project, in which gay and lesbian youth aged 14 to 23 from Horizons Community Services’ Youth Services program join youth from five other Chicago-area programs to canvass Chicago neighborhoods in order to identify and document businesses, services, and programs of value to youth. The program is a first and will produce a database for use in city and service-organization planning.