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PASSAGES: LGBTQ+ ally, activist and artist Charlotte Newfeld passes away
by Carrie Maxwell
2022-11-23

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LGBTQ+ ally, activist and artist Charlotte Newfeld died Nov. 17 due to natural causes. She was 91.

At the time of her death, Newfeld was living at the Dobson Memory Care facility in Evanston.

Newfeld was born Nov. 26, 1930, in Chicago's Albany Park neighborhood. She graduated from Von Steuben High School and later University of Wisconsin at Madison, where she received a Masters of Fine Arts degree.

While in art school, Newfeld met students and teachers who were gay and lesbian who had to hide their identities. This was during the McCarthy era, when anyone with left-leaning politics were potential targets for their views.

When Newfeld moved back to Chicago after art school, she got married to Bernard "Buddy" Newfeld, a traveling salesman, and had two children—Julie and David. She set up a studio on Wells Street in Old Town, where she met more gay and lesbian people who quickly became her friends. Newfeld also later worked at Studio 23 on Lincoln Ave.

In the early '70s, Newfeld started her journey as an out ally and friend to Chicago's LGBTQ+ community. This included lobbying on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community for several goals: pass a human rights ordinance prohibiting discrimination because of one's sexual orientation (later gender identity) at the city and county levels, appointing a mayoral liaison to the community, and forming a City committee on LGBTQ+ issues.

When the HIV/AIDS epidemic began to emerge in the '80s, Newfeld, alongside the late activist Danny Sotomayor and Sidetrack owner Art Johnston, lobbied for an increased Chicago budget to tackle the crisis. Newfeld also delivered meals through Open Hand Chicago, now a division of Heartland Alliance, to assure clients with pets received cat and dog food. She was one of the earliest donors to Center on Halsted as well.

Newfeld encouraged LGBTQ+ Chicagoans to participate in the political process in articles she wrote for GayLife in the early '70s. Then when out gay candidates Grant L. Ford and Gary Nepon ran for public office in the late '70s, Newfeld threw her support behind them. She subsequently supported every other out LGBTQ+ candidate in the Chicago area, including Ron Sable, who barely beat Ald. Bernie Hansen, and the successful campaign of Illinois' first out LGBTQ+ state representative Larry McKeon.

As a member of the Lake View Citizen's Council board, Newfeld called for a domestic partnership ordinance for gay and lesbian couples in 1996. When Newfeld ran for a Chicago City Council seat in the 46th Ward, she was one of the first candidates to hire out LGBTQ+ campaign staffers and volunteers. Her primary victory party was held at the now-defunct LGBTQ+ bar His 'n Hers, where she thanked the community for their support. Newfeld lost that race—by just 66 votes—but later became Chicago's Commission on Women vice-chair.

The Chicago Tribune once called Newfeld "the Grand Dame of the lakefront liberals."

Another of Newfeld's endeavors was as Citizens United for Baseball in Sunshine (CUBS) president, where she led the "No Lights" campaign to prevent night-games at Wrigley Field. Although night-games ultimately won out, Newfeld and the rest of the CUBS group won concessions to ensure neighborhood safety that still exist to this day.

Most recently, Newfeld was the Bill Jarvis Migratory Bird Sanctuary project director at Montrose Harbor, where she was known as "the Jarvis Earth Mother," due to the work she did to ensure that the sanctuary was restored and protected.

Among Newfeld's accolades was an induction into Chicago's LGBT Hall of Fame in 1996 as a "friend of the community." She won the prestigious Jon-Henri Award, named after gay writer and raconteur Jon-Henri Damski, in 2006 for her activism. Newfeld was also one of the many people included in the Chicago Gay History project with a video interview in 2007.

Newfeld is survived by her daughter Julie and daughter's husband Gregory Pranski. She was preceded in death by her parents, Rebecca and Jacob Aronson, sisters Janet and Arlene, husband Bernard and son David.

In a Facebook post, Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame admin Rick Karlin mourned Newfeld's death with a reminder of what she did to advance the equal rights of LGBTQ+ people in the city: "Charlotte Newfeld's contributions to gay and lesbian Chicagoans have not been short-lived. She was a tenacious advocate for all of our rights for more than 50 years."

"I want to honor and celebrate Charlotte's long, good and purposeful life," said longtime friend and fellow activist Lori Cannon. "She taught us to be kind, stand our ground and fight for what is right. I will always remember her last spoken words to me which were, 'Don't ever change your hair color, keep it red' and my response was 'deal!'"

"Charlotte was a dear friend, a mentor and a pillar in the LGBT community," said longtime friend U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-5). "I worked with her on a number of local initiatives, beginning with the 'No Lights in Wrigley' cause. We both served on the Lakeview Citizens Council, where I saw firsthand how much love she had for our community. Through her leadership, she instilled in me the importance of putting the local community first. She will be dearly missed, but the impact she had on Chicago will be felt for generations to come."

"Charlotte was a force to be reckoned with from the first time we met in the early 1980s," said longtime friend Ald. Tom Tunney. "She was a political candidate for Alderman in Ward 46, a foe of lights at Wrigley Field, a LGBTQ rights and AIDS activist, and a leader in the Bill Jarvis Bird Sanctuary restoration. She re-enforced the meaning that community comes first, and always supported those who shared her vision for working together in a sustainable Lakeview neighborhood. There is only one Charlotte Newfeld. May she rest in peace and sanctuary."

"Charlotte was a Chicago treasure," said long-time friend Rick Garcia. "She was a fighter for things that are fair, right and just. I was fortunate to have her as a dear friend. She was known for sending hand watercolor painted cards to everyone of her friends. I have beautiful cards from her for so many holidays and occasion over the years. Charlotte was one of the earliest and strongest fighters for LGBTQ+ rights long before many of us in the community.

"Other than her LGBTQ+ and HIV/ADS advocacy, there are two other major things' people should remember about Charlotte is she kept lights out of Wrigley Field for many years and because of her advocacy they are still limited in the amount of night-games they can play there and playing a key role in establishing and maintaining the Montrose Harbor Bird Sanctuary."

"When I first met Charlotte, the neighborhood was in the throes of the 'No Lights in Wrigley Field' battle," said friend and state Sen. Sara Feigenholtz. "Although the end result is history, it was her fighting spirit that brought the Cubs to the table and limited the number of night games and imposing a night game curfew.

"Charlotte did not suffer fools. Her confrontational style was legendary. She exasperated Mayor Richard M. Daley and accused him of ignoring the AIDS crisis. This ultimately impacted an increase in the city budget. In the early 1970s and 80's, it was Charlotte who was standing up for the LGBT community— when no one else was standing up. That spoke volumes about her character.

"Charlotte lived her 91 years to the fullest, but I know she would be pained to witness the hateful rhetoric being spewed on social media against the LGBTQ+ and specifically the trans community.

"She was an artist, a dog lover and bird watcher—there were many facets to this woman's life. One Thanksgiving day, she asked me to meet her at near the totem pole east of Lake Shore Drive. She insisted on showing me a place where birds migrated that day. When we arrived, I saw a fenced in area with overgrown vines and branches that needed a lot of attention. Because of her stewardship, she engaged over 200 volunteers to clean up what is now the Bill Jarvis Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

"Charlotte has left an indelible mark in Lake View and will always have a prominent space in our community's history book. She helped many of us find our voices and for that I am grateful."

"Charlotte was the very first 'Lakefront Liberal' I ever met... 43 years ago," said Legacy Project Co-Founder and Executive Director Victor Salvo. "She was part of a group of ladies who used to gather at the rooming I house I lived in to devise strategies for taking on 'The Daley Machine' which had dominated Chicago politics for generations. It was my first exposure to the fantastic energy that flowed from these great leaders, thinkers and fighters. From our first meeting it was obvious Charlotte was a force of nature. She was a mentor and confidante to many over the decades, including me—a young clueless gay boy just cutting my teeth as an activist at the dawn of the LGBTQ community's progressive awakening in the mid-80s.

"Though we did not always agree over the four decades of our association, I respected no one's passion, integrity and intellect more. There are very few people like Charlotte left anymore… people willing to take on and tear down the titans of power—no matter how long it takes—when it is necessary in order to achieve social justice too long delayed. I am blessed beyond measure to have known Charlotte and to have called her my friend. My very first hero and role model is gone. It is truly the end of an era."

"Charlotte was passionate about people, birds and her dogs," said longtime friend and former Chicago Alderman Helen Shiller. "During Charlotte's 1983 campaign for Alderman her early support for a gay rights ordinance was courageous and hallmark of her campaign. Over time, Charlotte and I connected more frequently both professionally and personally. Charlotte became a supporter and friend of mine. She was a great person to work with on numerous initiatives. I appreciated her hard work on those things that were really important to her."

"Charlotte was at the top of the list of community activists in Chicago," said longtime friend and Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame Chair Emeritus Gary Chichester. "She was a dear friend of the LGBTQ+ community and threw herself into saving the birds with her sanctuary work. Every so often we would go out to lunch and she would present us with an art piece she had created. Charlotte had a life well-lived. She will be greatly missed."

A celebration of life will held at Ann Sather restaurant on Belmont Ave. in Lake View in early 2023. Contact jlnewfeld@gmail.com for more information.

See windycitytimes.com/lgbt/Charlotte-Newfeld-Activist-turns-80-151and-stays-engaged/29555.html for more about Newfeld's life.


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