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LGBT Activist Vernita Gray Dies

By Chuck Sudo in News on Mar 19, 2014 1:30PM

Legendary gay rights activist Vernita Gray, who made history as one-half of the first same-sex couple legally wed in Illinois, died late Tuesday night after a prolonged battle with cancer. She was 65.

The Windy City Times first reported the news of Ms. Gray’s death. Her wife, Pat Ewert, was by her side and she was visited by family in the weeks leading up to her death.

Ms. Gray’s legacy will reach far beyond her marriage to Ewert last November. She was a pioneering gay rights activist in Chicago starting in 1969 when she organized a gay and lesbian hotline; the phone number spelled out FBI-LIST. She founded Chicago’s first lesbian newspaper, Lavender Woman, and was a victims advocate for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office for over 20 years. Her work to empower African-American gays and lesbians often endangered her among Chicago’s black community. Ms. Gray was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996 which spread to her bones and formed inoperable tumors in her brain. Her last wish was to be wed to Ewert, to whom she proposed in 2009.

Ms. Gray received her wish in November 2013 when U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman ordered the Cook County Clerk's office to immediately issue marriage licenses to all Illinois same-sex couples who, because of a life-threatening illness, cannot wait until next summer to get married. A court ruling last month allowed same-sex couples to be married ahead of Illinois’ marriage equality law taking effect in June.