by Tracy Baim
Long-time lesbian activist and much-honored attorney Renee Hanover
died Jan. 5. She was 84. Hanover moved to California several years
ago to be near her daughter Nancy. When she left Chicago ten years
ago, the Chicago LGBT community held a large send-off for her at Star Gaze bar.
The funeral service for Hanover was Jan. 9 at Congregation Or
Chadash, followed by interment Wunders Cemetery. While several people
shared wonderful memories of Hanover at the Jan. 9 service, a
community memorial will be planned soon.
Renee Marcus was born April 18, 1926, in New York City. She was a
first-generation Americanher father was from Russia, her mother from
England. What radicalized her on gender issues was an experience in
Hebrew school, which she attended with her sister. Renee excelled,
winning a first prize award that would mean she could lead a parade.
But because she was a girl, she was initially refused the honor.
When she was in New York, Renee also was involved in labor organizing
because she was an office worker. She joined the Communist Party in
New York, and was still involved in the CP when she moved to Chicago
in 1952. She became disillusioned with the CP when they did not
support efforts on fighting racism. Renee married young ( taking her
husband's last name, Hanover ) , later divorced and then raised her
three children while working her way through college and law school
in the 1960s.
She was dismissed from law school in 1964, four months shy of her
degree, for being a lesbian. She later returned to graduate. She
opened what is believed to be the first law office in the U.S.
focused on women's issues and was also believed to be the first "out"
lesbian attorney in the county.
Hanover was inducted into Chicago's Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in
1991. Her tremendous contributions to Chicago's LGBT and mainstream
communities includes work on dozens of non-profits, defending gay men
against police entrapment, fighting to desegregate beaches in
Chicago, helping overturn the Chicago anti-cross-dressing law,
representing African-American lesbians protesting heavy carding at
white lesbian bars, representing the Black Panthers, and much more.
She was a colleague of legendary Chicago lesbian Pearl Hart.
Hanover was one of Chicago's most cherished lesbian activists. She
worked inside and outside the system to save and change the lives of
tens of thousands of people.
With her senior colleague, attorney Pearl M. Hart, she helped
overturn the Chicago "zipper" law banning cross-dressing and worked
on numerous cases of gay men arrested by police in public spaces.
Hanover, a powerful presence in any meeting, was a traditional
anti-war leftie, always challenging the government. Starting in July
1961, she helped organize a "freedom wade-in" at the South Shore's
Rainbow Beach to help desegregate Chicago's beaches. It took three
years, but eventually she and her allies won.
Ferd Eggan, who died in 2007, wrote of Hanover in an essay titled
"Dykes and Fags Want Everything: Dreaming of the Gay Liberation
Front": "I remember best a demonstration [ in the early 1970s ]
against the beating and killing of a Black drag queen by the Chicago
Police Department. … We came to understand that our gay rights would
be nothing but privileges for the well-to-do unless we acted for the
most vulnerable, most easily victimized queers. Long-time lesbian
lawyer Renee Hanover, who had struggled for years already as an
advocate of union and leftist communities in Chicago, was one of the
maybe 20 of us in the freezing sleet on Chicago Avenue that day."
That was Hanoveryou could count on her in the boardroom, in the
courtroom, or on the streets with ACT UP protesters or
She was the attorney for the first public gay dance in Chicago, in
1970 on Chicago's South Side.
She also took on the gay establishment, fighting for African-American
lesbians kept out of women's bars. The April/May 1975 edition of the
Chicago Gay Crusader newspaper reported on the case against C.K.'s
Lounge, where Hanover represented the complainants in their
successful legal fight for unbiased access to the club.
The June 24, 1977, edition of GayLife newspaper reported on comments
Hanover made at the huge and historic protest against anti-gay singer
Anita Bryant's appearance at Medinah Temple in Chicago. The June 14
protest brought together thousands of LGBTs. Hanover stated: "This
would have to be the most moving event we have ever had." She said
the community is a part "of all the people who are covered by the
Constitution." Hanover told the crowd that she was asked to speak
June 17 before the Texas Bar Association opposite Bryant.
During the 1987 March on Washington weekend in D.C., the 61-year-old
Hanover was among those arrested at a protest in front of the U.S.
Supreme Court. For more than 40 years, she was involved in a wide
range of causes. As an out lesbian attorney as long ago as the 1960s,
Hanover made history alongside very few out colleagues.
Her practice with Hart inspired Hanover's own work. "Her legal career
consisted in large part of defending underdogsaliens, alleged
subversives, homosexuals, prostitutes, among others," Hanover said
when Hart died. One could say the same about Hanover.
Hanover cared about senior gay issues and was part of a pioneering
1980s group working on those issues well before they became popular.
She was a director of Lesbian and Gay Seniors ( LEGACY ) for four
years. She was a co-founder and steering committee member of Old
Lesbian Organizing Committee.
Hanover's work on women's issues was also important to her and to
Chicago. She helped anti-rape efforts, the Women in Crisis Can Act
hotline, Women Employed, Lesbians in the Law, Chicago Lesbian
Liberation, Daughters of Bilitis, Lesbian Community Cancer ( now Care
) Project, the National Organization for Women, Chicago Women's
Liberation Front, and dozens more.
But she was also involved in numerous legal efforts, including the
National Lawyers Guild ( executive board ) , the Chicago Lawyers
Committee to End the War in Vietnam, and the ACLU. She initiated the
first gay and lesbian workshops at any national legal conference. She
was also a charter member of the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of
Chicago ( LAGBAC ) .
Hanover represented in court many feminists and feminist groups,
including the underground abortion group JANE. She actively supported
and participated in the annual Women and Law Conferences nationally,
from the second through twenty-second years of the conference. She
was part of a ground-breaking lesbian professional organization, and
helped found a 1970s women's brunch group that is still active today.
She also represented the "D.C. 12" gay male defendants against
criminal charges stemming from the Black Panthers Constitutional
Convention in Washington, D.C.
Hanover also provided testimony for important legal efforts. She
testified before the Chicago City Council, the Chicago Commission on
Human Relations, the Federal Communications Commission, the Illinois
Department of Insurance, the Illinois Department of Labor, the
Illinois Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Illinois Fair
Employment Practices Commission, the Texas Bar Association, and more.
In 1973 alone, she testified twice at the Chicago City Council, once
at hearings on rape, and another time at the judiciary committee
hearings on two gay-rights resolutions.
She was very much a co-gender activist, working with Mattachine
Midwest, Beckman House, Chicago Gay Alliance, Gay Liberation Front (
she was a founding member in 1969 ) , ACT UP and Illinois Gay and
Lesbian Task Force campaigns.
She was in mainstream groups, Jewish organizations ( Havurat Achayot
and Congregation Or Chadash, plus non-gay Jewish groups ) ,
progressive causes, and dozens more too numerous to list.
The Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame has a more detailed roster
of her involvement ( see www.glhalloffame.org ) , and many of her
personal papers are maintained by the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York.
Her long-time friend William B. Kelley wrote the following on the
Hall of Fame website: "She has also been an invaluable organizer of
efforts to address specific community problems. Without employing
mere rhetoric, she has always pointed out connections between lesbian
or gay issues and other social phenomena, and, by bridging a practice
and theory gap between lesbian and gay activism and other social
change movements, she has been a living argument against
ghettoization. Hanover has embodied gay and lesbian pride and
visibility every time she appeared in court or negotiated on behalf
of a gay or lesbian client, and every time she testified or lobbied
knowledgeably in policy making settings. All this advocacy was
unpaid, and even her law practice was often pro-bono. Her ability to
motivate others and to size them up accurately has been of great aid
to her own and others' advocacy efforts."
In June 1992, Hanover contributed a column to Outlines gay newspaper
( which purchased and merged with Windy City Times in 2000 ) , based
on her remarks receiving one of her many honors, this from the
Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force, May 16 of 1992. She stated in
part: "I remember too many years ago when I represented the Black
Panthers and the Blackstone rangers and was trying to start a bail
fund." Out of that, she realized the gay community could also use
such a fund, which eventually lead to IGLTF's formation.
He acceptance speech urged the community to come together across all
divisions, including race and gender. " [ We ] cannot afford this
infighting and trashing," she said. "We've got serious work ahead of
us and we need the contribution of each and every one of us. We've
got to advance the interests of the entire gay and lesbian community.
The best tribute you could give those we honor tonight is for each
and every person here to make a commitment and actively join our struggle."
In addition to IGLTF and induction in the Chicago Gay and Lesbian
Hall of Fame, Hanover received many other honors during her career.
The Chicago National Organization for Women gave her their Wonder
Woman Award, LEGACY named an award for Hanover after honoring her,
and she received the Joe Alongi Award from IMPACT, a now-defunct gay
political action committee.
What is most important to remember about Hanover is not just her
work, but Hanover as a person. She was short and mighty, a mentor and
friend to all generations of LGBTs, an amazing force for change of
both individuals and institutions. She was out and proud and
unapologetic, well before that became the norm. She was a role model
for so many Chicagoans and others around the United Stateslawyers,
activists, politicians. Her retirement to Los Angeles was a sad blow
to the Windy City; Chicago may never see the likes of Renee Hanover again.
Hanover was preceded in death, by a few months, by her former partner
Dillie Grunauer, another Chicago activist legend.
Survivors: Her children Stan ( Pam ) Hanover, Paul ( Nancy Katz )
Hanover, Nancy ( Gerardo ) Reyes; grandchildren Michael Andrews,
Sarah Solon-Hanover, Julie, Jonathan and Susan Hanover; great
grandchildren Jasmine, Jelani and Khadjia Andrews.
Memorials to: Congregation or Chadash, St. John of God Care Center in
Los Angeles, The Herstory Archives in New York, or Gerber Hart Library.
( This obituary includes excerpts from the book Out and Proud in
Chicago: An Overview of the City's Gay Movement, 2008, Agate, by Tracy Baim. )