Chicago cultural and music advocate, poet and educator Diane Gomez died May 5 due to complications from cancer. She was 70.
Gomez was born September 28, 1952, on the South Side of Chicago to a very political family. Her mother Susie Gomez was the first Mexican American precinct captain in Chicago. She went to St. Michael's grammar school and graduated from Bowen High School on the South side of Chicago. Gomez received her BA in theater speech from Columbia College and then studied film/radio/TV at Northwestern University.
In the late '90s, Gomez went on to get a master's degree in leadership and instruction and then a Ph.D. in curriculum design from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Her doctoral thesis focused on art, education and Pilsen. During that time, Gomez worked as project coordinator for UIC's Hispanic Math/Science Education Initiative, a program that received the High Hopes for College Award from then President Bill Clinton in 1998.
Among Gomez's many positions were with Latino Youth Inc. as alternative schools network sports program coordinator; Latino Youth Theater ensemble director; Latino Youth Arts Program director; and instructor/counselor. She was also a project coordinator and videographer/editor for UIC; Chicago Public Schools technology director and substitute teacher; and City Colleges of Chicago Daley Community College adjunct instructor in early childhood education.
In a 2007 interview with Chicago Gay History, Gomez said she always knew she was a lesbian from the time she was seven years old and officially came out in 1966 to her parents, right before her freshman year of high school.
A lover of music, Gomez participated in and later worked as the stage security coordinator at the now-defunct Michigan Womyn's Music Festival from its beginnings in 1976 and throughout its 35-plus-year history. She became a fixture at the festival, with many people looking forward to seeing her each year.
Gomez was a member of the Lesbians of Color group from the mid-'80s to the early-'90s. She wrote and self-published a poetry book as well as performed her poetry at the now-defunct Mountain Moving Coffee Housesometimes under the urban and witty Teddy Zest personaand at Mona's Kitchen (Mona Noriega), a.k.a. her poetry salon in her house. She also wrote another volume of poetry called Gomez Rides Again, the poem Some Pain for the Third Woman anthology, and Beauty and the Beset for the Naming the Daytime Moon anthology. She also wrote a short story titled Ambition in the Third Woman: Latinas for the Midwest Vol. 2, No. 2 book.
Additionally, Gomez played and coached softball for a queer women's league, most notably on the now defunct Sol Sands Restaurant team spearheaded by the late Vernita Gray. Gomez later started her own Black and Latina women-only softball team. She was also in the Chicago Women's 8-Ball league, and competed at many now-defunct queer women bars. Gomez took her pool-playing skills to the Gay Games when they came to Chicago in 2006. She also played league volleyball.
Gomez met her future wife Tracy Barrientos at the now-defunct lesbian bar Paris Dance in May 1991. They quickly fell in love and knew right away that they were soulmates. Both women spurred on each other's educational and professional pursuits. As members of the Latinx community themselves, Gomez and Barrientos encouraged Latinx youth in Chicago during the 1990s and 2000s to also go to college.
They became parents to two daughters, Isabella (2002) and Frances (2007) Gomez-Barrientos. While Barrientos was working Gomez focused on taking care of their daughters. When civil unions became legal in Illinois in 2011, the couple quickly got their certificate and later converted that to a marriage license when same-sex marriages became legal in Illinois.
Gomez was preceded in death by her parents Nasario and Susie Gomez, sister Savina Schwartz and brother Ronald Gomez. She is survived by Barrientos, their daughters, sister Virginia Oviedo, brother Lionel Gomez, many nieces and nephews, in-laws and countless chosen family members and friends.
"Dianethoughtful, generous and honest," said Barrientos. "She lived her truth with no apologies. A lifelong scholar, dancer, poet, writer, painter, mentor, pool shark and athlete. A daughter, a mother, a sister, an aunt and a dedicated, loving partner. Diane loved raising our daughters and encouraged their musical talents. Her legacy will live on through them. Be honest. Better out than in. Question everything. Do not kill spiders. And do not forget to dance."
"I was blessed to have met Gomez early on in my life," said longtime friend Mona Noriega. "She was an affirmative example of a Latina lesbian who lived her truth. Whether it was laughing in my kitchen, performing with LOC, or working on her chap book (you are the ant, I am the grasshopper, living in winter), she was a force, passionate, witty and always the poet.
"At Mountain Moving Coffeehouse, during our annual Black History Month events, Diane performed with other women of color in comedy skits, reading poems and giving spoken word performances, in a troupe called 'Women On The Couch,' said longtime friend Kathy Munzer. "Up at the Michigan Women's Music Festival, she was a trusted and beloved long time worker, as Head of Security for Night Stage. I remember her as being funny, kind, smart and also, very loyal and caring to family and friends, with love and pride for her community."
"I remember when Diane Gomez pulled in to the 1982 Michigan Womyn's Music Festival ," said longtime friend Lisa Vogel. "She was with Karen Dodson, who I knew because she had stayed after the first festival to help clean up. I saw them roll into the new land we knew little about and saidwe need help. And that is what they each did for the next 33 years.
"Gomez, as we all knew her, was the steady force on Stage Security, coordinating that area for 32 years. Her incredible solid energy and beautiful heart inspired women to return to her crew for literally decades. She was beloved by the entire Michfest stage ecosphere, and we all trusted when Diane was there, and she always was, she had it handled. She was never overly dramatic, never suffered fools and was always deeply kind. It was a joy to see her and Tracy's daughters grow as part of this community. They made us all better people."
A memorial service will take place Saturday, June 17, 2023, at the Chicago Teachers Union Center, 1901 W. Carroll Ave. in Chicago from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m.
Barrientos asks that all attendees RSVP by June 3 using this form https://forms.gle/aoqVNjYMfAXxZm3X9 so appropriate arrangements can be made and to reach out to her at email@example.com or by text to 312-213-6706 to ask any questions or get additional information about the memorial service.
See Gomez's 2007 interview for more details about her life www.chicagogayhistory.com/biography.php .