Schumacher (right) at Sunday’s Chicago House Spring Brunch & Fashion Show | Ingrid Bonne Photography
Updated: May 7, 2013 2:44PM
As a gay man over 40, HIV/AIDS has been a part of my life since I came out in my 20s. I’ve seen so many of my loved ones personally affected in some way by this epidemic.
While living in St. Louis, I met Richard Morse, a fellow “retail queen” who became a dear friend. I learned that he had attended Parsons and Fashion Institute of Technology and had his own design label in New York for 10 years until he moved back home. I also learned that he was HIV-positive. He had lived without complications for quite some time and successfully climbed the retail ladder. When he moved to Chicago, though, the virus and complications took control of his life. Seeing him struggle, I knew that I wanted to be a part of the solution to this terrible disease.
Fourteen years ago, my partner and I moved to Chicago and decided to become involved with the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus. I was excited to be a part of something that affirmed community and promoted diversity through the arts. In many ways, the chorus was born out of the HIV/AIDS crisis — our early members needed a place to unite for equality, but also for healing.
It was a different time then. At CGMC’s first concert, some men sang anonymously without their names in the program, or refused to have their photo appear in publicity shots. In the late ’80s, they tell me, the chorus sang at more funerals than anything due to the devastation of HIV/AIDS.
It was through CGMC that I was introduced to and became a supporter of Chicago House. This organization was always alongside the chorus, providing much-needed support and a dignified place for men and women afflicted by HIV/AIDS to carry out their last days.
I’d always been aware of the amazing services Chicago House provides to members of the LGBT community. In fact, throughout the years, without even knowing it, Chicago House has provided those services to people within my social network, whether it be through housing, or even just through community outreach, employment or prevention efforts.
Of course, now, the AIDS epidemic has changed. And as the needs of the homeless and HIV-affected continue to evolve, CGMC’s and the Chicago House’s roles continues to evolve as well to fit the ever-winding road to LGBT equality. As part of CGMC’s Performance for Life Program, the chorus now provides access to our concerts for hundreds of individuals with HIV, including dozens of Chicago House clients. We sing at the residences come holiday time, our members volunteer at events and sing at benefits and we send holiday cheer to each of Chicago House’s buildings by sponsoring holiday decor and gorgeous poinsettias every winter. I have even created a fun “alter ego” named D’Manda Donation who has performed and appeared at numerous events raising funds for CGMC, Chicago House and other LGBT support organizations.
The CGMC is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and Chicago House is right behind it, having offered housing and supportive services to the homeless and people affected by HIV/AIDS for 27 years. It seems fitting that I’ve been able to unite my love of two great organizations, because their histories are so deeply intertwined. And I’m thrilled that I was able to return for the sixth year in a row as fashion director for Chicago House’s 26th Annual Spring Brunch and Fashion Show on May 5, where I was able to combine my professional event capabilities with my love of fashion for a truly amazing cause.
Four years ago, my longtime friend Richard Morse and his business partner and friend, Daryl Sneed, launched their line, 5p1t (Kirk James Collection), on the runway of the Chicago House Brunch and Fashion Show. It was a proud moment to share with him. Sadly, complications with HIV took Richard from us in June 2011. But on Sunday, his memory and design aesthetic lived on in the presentation of a new line, ricorso, which has its foundations based on several of his original patterns. I was so honored to see the designs of my dear friend, living again on the runway.
For more information on the CGMC and the Chicago House, visit Cgmc.org and Chicagohouse.org.