Sexologist and activist Dr. Thomas Gertz died Oct. 28 due to natural causes. He was 77.
At the time of his death, Gertz was in an assisted living facility. He had previously lived at Heartland Housing and Center on Halsted Town Hall Apartments senior housing, where he was an active participant in many activities.
Gertz moved to Town Hall when it opened in 2014, after an accident hindered his mobility. Gertz was living in San Francisco at the time with an in-home assistant, but wanted to move back to Chicago.
In an interview with the Heartland Alliance website, Gertz said, "I really wanted to get back to Chicago. I wanted to be home. The folks at Heartland Housing were ready to go the extra mile for me. They were very welcoming and really wanted to make sure I could move in with little difficulty. I love the openness here. You have a community, and you can share exactly what you want. We have potlucks, and we all gather just to be together. You know, in the 1960's you would never have thought that a place like this could even happen. I'm very lucky to get to live here."
Gertz was born Dec. 4, 1944, in Chicago and raised on the Northwest side. He was an only child in a house with five adultsmother, father, grandmother, grandfather and auntwho were all Republicans. In a wide-ranging interview with the Chicago Gay History website, Gertz said that was a challenge for him.
As a Schurz High School student, Gertz realized he was gay. Gertz told Chicago Gay History that, due to the era in which he grew up, he had to hide his gay identity from everyone. This resulted in a bout of depression as a young adult that led him to see a psychiatrist.
During those psychiatrist visits, Gertz realized the ignorance in society when his doctor did not know anything about LGBTQ+ issues. That realization forever changed the course of Gertz's life.
Gertz worked as an assistant manager and manager of a floral shop and in the jewelry industry before moving on to work at the Midwest Population Center, where he met his future romantic partner, the late obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Richard "Dick" Bennett.
In 1973, Gertz and Bennett moved to Akron, Ohio to work at the human sexuality center Akron Forum, Inc. Gertz also worked as an office manager in Bennett's private practice during that time. While living in Akron for almost 25 years, Gertz was involved with starting and developing numerous HIV/AIDS organizations and also served as the Akron Health Department's AIDS Support Services Coordinator. In recognition for his work on behalf of the HIV/AIDS community, Gertz was appointed to the Ohio Department of Health's AIDS Advisory Committee. He also received Ohio Department of Health's Outstanding HIV/AIDS Service Awards in 1993.
Gertz decided to change careers when he discovered the San Francisco-based Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. He loved what the Institute was doing in the educational realm so he decided to get his master's degree in human sexuality in 1976, and later a doctorate of education in human sexuality in 2002.
Gertz also received an honorary Doctorate of Arts in Human Sexuality (1997) and a Master of Public Health in Human Sexuality (2004) from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality.
Among Gertz's other professional accomplishments were working for the Akron Sex Forum, Chicago Sex Forum and his own company, Thomas Gertz & Associates as a sex educator, clinical sexologist and HIV/AIDS consultant. He moved back to Chicago in 1997 following Bennett's death.
In 2007, Gertz returned to San Francisco to teach at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality where he was a professor of sexology, dean of students and Sexual Attitude Restructuring Programs director.
Gertz was also a United States Consortium of Sexology, Inc. treasurer and board member; 6th World Congress of Sexology conference coordinator in 1983; American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors & Therapists president, treasurer and board member; American College of Sexologists president, executive director and board member; Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality board member; and City of Chicago Department of Public Health HIV/AIDS Services grant reviewer, among other achievements.
One of his early forays into LGBTQ+ activism was during the later days of the homophile movement. Gertz joined the Mattachine Midwest organization in 1967, where he also held the titles of vice president and then president during his tenure.
According to John D. Poling, history instructor and author of Mattachine Midwest: History of a Chicago Gay Rights Organization, Gertz led Mattachine Midwest during a very challenging time.
"Tom was president in the years right after Stonewall," said Poling. "Those were tough times for Mattachine. They kind of lost their way among the new gay lib groups. Tom kept the group going and re-tooled it towards human service and less political."
Gertz also told the Heartland Alliance website: "I remember picking up a Mattachine Society magazine at a young age [after those visits to the psychiatrist], and got involved with the Chicago branch very quickly. Mattachine means a role played behind a mask, and back then we were all hiding behind masksbut that doesn't mean I wasn't open about who I was. We were on radio and TV, and we held educational services for social workers and hospitals. We had to educate the people about who we were as we fought against stigma.
"And it was a real fight. In those early days, we had to fight to just find a place to meet, to be around other gay people. We were thankful for places like the ACLUand even for our Alderman, Tom Tunney, because we were welcome at his restaurants. Being welcome is an incredibly important feeling, and it's hard to know that until you don't have it. We also had a running phone hotline where volunteers would connect people with serviceslawyers or other referralsfor when they got into crisis."
Gertz was also a NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt Chicago chapter board member (2002-2006), board vice-president (2003-2004) and board chair (2006). Among other things, he was a volunteer captain for the Midwest Region for the AIDS Memorial Quilt Display in 1996, when the quilt was laid out on the Mall in Washington, D.C.
Among his many friends/mentors were Mattachine Midwest attorney Pearl Hart and Mattachine Midwest members Jim Osgood, Ed Louzao, Roland Lancaster and Ira Jones.
Gertz was preceded in death by Bennett, his parents, grandparents and aunt.
"I personally and professionally knew Tom for over 25 years," said Center on Halsted CEO Modesto Tico Valle, who also served on the committee that brought the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt to Chicago in 1998. "Anyone who met him would agree that he was thoughtful, generous and kind. He also was a very intelligent man, contributing to any number of boards."
A celebration of life memorial service will be held Monday, Nov. 21 at 2 p.m. at Town Hall Apartments, 3600 N. Halsted, in the second floor dining room.