Toni Armstrong Jr.Age: 63
Toni Armstrong Jr., lifelong educator and social-justice/cultural organizer, began her activism in high school. She took on her first LGBT leadership role in 1974 when she became co-president of the then-new Gay People's Alliance at Illinois State University.
Toni Jr. has dedicated her life to advancing fairness in her professional work as a 30-year special education teacher and individually by driving inaugural nationwide women's music and culture activities. Achievements include:
• Publisher/managing editor: HOT WIRE: The Journal of Women's Music and Culture; We Shall Go Forth Directory; and Paid My Dues
• Founding staff member of both Windy City Times and Outlines newspapers
• Concert producer with Chicago's Mountain Moving Coffeehouse
• Co-founder of Music Industry Conferences and Women Writers Conferences (National Women's Music Festival)
• Musician in lesbian bands Surrender Dorothy, Lavender Jane, and others
• Photographer for HOT WIRE as well as other LGBT publications and various women's festivals.
In addition, she has been involved in funding and/or making several films, including documentaries on women's music (Radical Harmonies), Rosa Parks (Mighty Times), anti-gay school violence (Bullied), the oldest living lesbian (Ruth Ellis @ 100); plus the indie feature-length films Hannah Free and Jamie & Jessie are Not Together.
She is currently the surveys editor and indexer for the Chicago Gay History Project, as well as editor/publisher of the Long Time Friends newsletter for veterans of the lesbian feminist women's music industry.
From 1995-2003, Toni Jr. led the charge advancing LGBT visibility and equality in the K-12 schools, especially spearheading the successful campaign to establish Gay-Straight Alliances in the Chicagoland area. She also created (with Miguel Ayala and GLSEN) the national networking alliance of GSAs in the U.S.
She helped launch and develop organizations such as GLSEN Chicago, Color Triangle LGBT anti-racism coalition, Leaping Lesbians Skydiving Club, and the first openly lesbian Red Hat Society chapter in the U.S. (Amazon Lesbian Red Hat Sisterhood).
Toni Jr. has organized several large networking gatherings, including a seminal GLSEN regional conference, and a symposium event for Chicagoland students on how to deal with people who use religion as an anti-gay weapon. She also produced a groundbreaking day-long program on how lesbian-feminist music changed the course of American history for the Chicago Historical Society (now called Chicago History Museum); it was the first time any mainstream historical society had given women's music the official nod.
Other achievements have included receiving awards from various women's festivals; playing with the Lavender Jane band (Alix Dobkin and Kay Gardner) at Carnegie Hall as part of the Stonewall 25 festivities; being named one of the 2006 Gay Games 100 Champions; having the GLSEN Chicago Pathfinder Award named after her; and being inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame. In 2009 she was awarded a Feminist Veterans of America medal of honor.
After leaving Chicago in 2006, Toni Jr. has continued her LGBT and woman-centric community leadership. A big believer in the power of "us," Toni Jr. applied her organizing skills to help launch and build membership for the O.U.T. coalition [renamed Florida Together in 2010], the federation of all LGBT and gay-supportive groups in her new home state.
In 2008, she created a community-building organization called BLAST (Bi, Lesbian, and Straight Together) Women of the Palm Beaches. Since its inception, BLAST has attracted more than 1600 members and sponsored well over a thousand events by, for, and about women. She founded and runs Empty Closet Productions (live music and film screening events).
In 2014 she was selected as one of SFGN's first "OUT 50" in SE Florida.
Video Interview Date: 2007-08-08 Interviewer:
Out and Proud in Chicago:
An Overview of the City's Gay Community, the book is edited by Tracy Baim and features the contributions of more than 20 prominent historians and journalists. It is published by Surrey Books, an Agate imprint, and is hard cover, 224 pages, 4-color, with nearly 400 photos.
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