Today marks a very sad day for our LGBTQ community and quite frankly all of Chicago. Our social events most certainly will not be as bright due to the absence of the familiar and lovely face of our own Kat Fitzgerald. One thing is for certain, we’re not going to look nearly as fabulous in our photos that will be showing up in future media coverage spreads. No offense to the rest of the very talented photographers out there. However, it’s a known fact. I have no idea how she does it. I personally believe she uses a magic camera lens filter built by her beloved pop tarts that makes you look the best you could possibly look in a photograph. How else could she have made me look 15 pounds lighter and 20 years younger?
From the first moment I met her at a friend’s house party, there to do tarot card readings, I knew she was special. I didn’t know how special and amazing, however, until later. Being as involved in the community as we both are, it was inevitable that our paths would cross over and over again. I was very fortunate to work together with her on planning committees, the LCCP Advisory Board and even on a photo shoot. Our friendship and my total admiration developed slowly like a good glass of “Sex”, her favorite Brut Rose Champagne. Few people know how generous and committed to our community she truly is. In the 7 years or so that she’s lived here, she has donated enormous amounts of time, energy and funds to support and promote many events and organizations. She’s even opened up her home to have events that supported fellow musicians and artists. For all of her hard work, tarot card readings or performances, I’ve yet to hear of her taking a dime for herself. Whatever money is given goes right back out to the community. Few people have as big a heart or as large a high-heeled shoe collection as Kat. She’s most definitely one of a kind, a true gift with many gifts. This is was why I asked to interview her for the L Stop’s community spotlight.
We met one evening in mid-April at a Howard Brown event downtown where she was doing her usual magic with the camera. Afterwards, we had dinner at one of her favorite restaurants “Las Ramblas” in Andersonville. This is her story that she was kind enough to share with me over a glass of tequila, another one of her favorites.
Alma: So Kat how did your career as a musician begin?
Kat: I was a music major in college. I majored in jazz composition. My dream was to replace Ed Shaunessy as the drummer with the band on the Johnny Carson Show. But that didn’t happen. I also wanted to be Sheila E. I’ve always loved music. After college though, I went to work for the government on shuttle missions. But I found ways to keep up with my love of music. I sat in jam sessions. I went to open mics. Music is my passion and so is photography.
Alma: How did you get into that? Into photography?
Kat: I’ve been shooting since I was 13. There was this jackass that told me that I’d never be good at it. That prompted me to continue to take photography and eventually enter a contest. I took first place at the California State Fair for best color photograph at age 16…all because some idiot challenged me.
Alma: Well, thanks goes out to that idiot because you work magic with that camera. Why not make a living at just photography then since you’re so good at it? Or music or computers for that matter?
Kat: Because I would die if I stopped doing any of them. I often wonder how people can do just one thing.
Alma: I don’t have to tell you that I totally agree with you on that one. Where are you from originally
and how did you end up here in Chicago?
Kat: My dad was in the military. I was born in Northern California but I’ve lived all over the place
including a year in both Germany and England. I moved here because my ex who is a jazz singer wanted to live here. We moved here in October of 2005.
Alma: How did you get acquainted and involved with the community? You said shortly after you got here you met Tracy Baim?
Kat: Yes, I met Tracy Baim and she was looking for photographers for the Gay Games. So I volunteered. And for whatever reason, probably because I had some experience, there were a couple of us, myself and Steve Becker, were put as lead photographers.
Alma: So within 6 months of moving here…
Kat: I was thrown into the deep end of the gay community. And that was a HUGE opportunity to suddenly meet 99% of everybody that lives here in Chicago that’s gay. And it’s funny because even like 2 years later I still had people come up to me and say “Oh my god, you took a picture of me at the closing ceremonies at the Gay Games. Do you remember?” And I just look and stare at them like “huh”?
Alma: Shooting the Gay Games must have been a lot of work for you I imagine?
Kat: It was a blast. For the closing ceremony, everybody was at all these other events. Well I went to Wrigley Field early. That’s where the closing ceremony was. Cindy Lauper was there rehearsing. All the other photographers were at other events. I got to hang out with Cindy Lauper all day til later that evening when it all came to an end. And the cool thing was that we sat around talking because once she was done with her rehearsal she had nothing else to do. And when she came back for her True Colors tour she remembered me.
Alma: Wow that’s so cool. How did your involvement with the community get started? Because I know you were on the LCCP Advisory Board for a while.
Kat: On the day my ex and I closed on our condo, we decided we were going to have a glass of champagne there to celebrate our first place we bought together. We were driving up Clark and we were starving so we looked for a place to stop and eat. The place we ended up stopping at totally by accident was T’s. There was an event going on. I can’t remember what it was but we met a lot of people. We said “Oh my god, we just bought a condo a few blocks from here”. Out of all the restaurants in Chicago, we’re driving up the road and we pull up into T’s…
Alma: So how did your involvement begin with LCCP?
Kat: I don’t remember who asked me to join the board but it was about 2-3 years after the Gay Games. All I remember was that I kept repeating “Are you sure you want ME because I’m kind of stubborn and obstinate and opinionated and being on a board I’m going to speak up. I’m not going to just sit around and do nothing” And she said, “yes, that’s what we want”.
Alma: Were you active in the community back in Atlanta?
Kat: I helped start a monthly lesbian magazine about the size of Night Spots. It was called Labrys Atlanta which is how I came up with Labrys Chicago.
Alma: So how did Labrys Chicago come about and how long ago was that?
Kat: When I came here, my ex and I felt like there didn’t seem to be a lot of ways to find out what was going on out in the lesbian community. There was Dyke Diva but it was starting to die out. So I thought, well let’s do a Labrys Chicago. I wanted to make it a print magazine but cost and time were both big factors so I ended up starting it as a website. But then Meetup came around and it morphed into a meetup group. I started it within a year of moving here and it’s still around today. It gives people another way to find out about events. I’m already thinking of starting a Labrys San Francisco.
Alma: One of the things that people say about you, and they say about me too actually, is that you go-go-go, you’re everywhere. You seem to have endless amount of energy. What motivates you? What’s behind all of that that gives you motivation?
Kat: There’s a very simple answer to that. It was 12 years ago that was told I was going to die, that I have cancer that’s inoperable. When you go through something like that you either live your life to the fullest or roll over and die. I swore that if I was going to die, I was going to die doing what I love – being out with people, making people smile, making people laugh, making them appreciate music.
Alma: How are you feeling today?
Kat: I have an attitude that says just deal with it. Sometimes I’m public about it; sometimes I’m not.
When I’m public about it, it’s because I’m so frustrated and tired of fighting and I vent. I’ve posted about
it on Facebook but I regret it. Facebook to me is a place where I make people laugh. After I was posting
for a month about my health I was thinking “this isn’t making anyone laugh. It’s making people feel sorry
for me” and I don’t want that. It’s that last thing I want. I want to make people laugh.
Alma: We’ve been talking about friends. You’ve lived so many places. Is that hard for you, to move somewhere, become friends with people and then move away?
Kat: Oh yeah it’s very hard. That’s why my personality is borderline psychotic.
Alma: Do you keep in touch with all those friends you’ve made along the way?
Kat: I try to keep in touch with people as best I can. It does get tough. I’m afraid that when I leave here I won’t be able to stay in touch with people as much as I want. Because if I’m not out shooting events, out of sight out of mind. People will forget about me.
Alma: Um, no I don’t think so. Chicago’s not going to be the same without you. That’s for sure. There’s going to be a huge void there at every event.
Kat: But that is something that is…I don’t know what the word is that I want to use. I want to say it’s surreal but I don’t know that that’s the right word. Some people are making a big deal about the fact that I’m leaving. They’re saying “oh, it’s not going to be the same”. And I’m going, I took pictures of people. I made them look good and I’m proud of that. I always said that I wanted to show the gay community in a different light, not pride parades and drag queens. It’s so much more than that. But there are people like you with Amigas Latinas and LCCP; there are so many other people out there that are active and doing far more than what I do. To be quite honest, I go to these events; I have a lot of fun and yes I’m working but I’m having a blast. I guess I don’t get it because I haven’t done anything. The people that win the awards because they’ve been busting their butts for years doing this stuff; I look at these people as I’m taking their pictures while they’re holding up their awards and I’m thinking “wow, why am I not doing something like that?” Those are the people that are making the difference. If THEY leave, Chicago won’t be the same. When I leave another photographer will start showing up at events and people will love them too. And that’s it.
Alma: Kat, you’re not taking into consideration how unique you are. Up until you came along, there were photographers. And after you leave, there’ll be photographers. But, will people say “Oh my god, there’s so and so and gather around them like they do with you? No, because photographers for the most part will go shoot the event and leave. You are very much involved with the community. You may not be trying to change the world but you’re helping in a different way. That’s why people know you, love you, acknowledge you. Just the fact that you’re bringing the LGBTQ community in to a different light with your photographs, helps us in our fight against discrimination, against hate crimes, against all the assumptions and misconceptions that the straight world has of us. I think that helps not only Chicago but it helps the LGBTQ community all over the world. So I disagree.
Kat: Well, one thing that I have tried to do is bridge the gap between the straight music community and the gay community. Even now the 4 Women series has become a new monthly lesbian hangout and that’s exactly what the owner of Katarina’s wanted; to reach out to the gay community. And it’s going to continue. I’m going to continue booking but Amy Bloom is going to be hosting. She’s going to be fabulous.
Alma: I agree. She’s a very talented woman. What do you think you’ll miss most about Chicago and/or the community?
Kat: The community! Honestly, everything about the community. I have lived in a lot of states, a couple of countries. I’ve moved everywhere. I’ve travelled everywhere. My mother used to tell me every time I’d call her she’d say, “You have really found your home in Chicago. I’ve never heard you talk about a city the way you talk about Chicago”. There were times I would talk about moving over there to be with them and she would talk me out of it. She’d say, “You are too happy there”. The only reason I’m leaving now is because it’s Apple. No other company would have been worth me leaving. And even my sister and my dad keep saying, “don’t move here just for us because if you move here and you’re miserable you’re not going to be any good to us”. It took me 2 weeks of literally reading the offer from Apple every day. I kept thinking about leaving Chicago. I love it here but I have to give it a shot.
Alma: I think everybody here knows that and respects that and is very happy for you. I mean you can tell from all the comments on Facebook how happy and excited people are for you. That’s an amazing opportunity. And for someone from OUR community to be given that opportunity by Apple?; kudos to Apple too for recognizing you.
Kat: I don’t think that I will ever find a community that is Chicago. For example, even Debby Rijos from Dykes on Bikes when she got the charter in order to be part of the national Dykes on Bikes said to me “Well you are a member. You are our photographer. You’re going to have one of our events.” I was like wow. Things like that make me realize things. Even last week I called my sister and asked her, “am I making the right decision?” I don’t know. I’ll find out in a month.
Alma: But you’re that kind of person that gives it a shot. I mean you have to. I don’t think there’s any question about it. You have to at least give it a shot.
Kat: But I do know that part of it is my mother is working. She wants me home close to my family. My father is 86 and she wants me near him. She did all this.
Alma: Thanks mom!
Kat: She was a pretty amazing lady. She was this devout Catholic; loved the Pope, loved the church. And yet she said, “I need to have words with him (the Pope) because for some reason he does not like my daughter and I want to talk to him about it”. And she always used to say too. “Well, of course I know you were born this way. This wasn’t a choice”. We would talk and she would try to figure it out and she’d go “I wonder if it was something I ate when I was pregnant? Or due to the fact that I drank gin gimlets”. She believed that something she probably did or ate or drank or whatever caused some sort of metabolic difference in her while I was being formed. And I said, well, who knows. I mean they’ll find something eventually. And all these people that have been babbling on about it being a choice are going to feel stupid. And I’ll say, “ah my mom knew it! Long before you did.” She was an amazing woman.
Alma: She didn’t say that feeling badly about it, did she?
Kat: No. We’d laugh about it. She was serious in the fact that she knew: it was biological! There was no
question in her mind.
Alma: You’re lucky. She really sounds amazing. You know just as well as I do of all the people that have
found themselves out in the street at age 13, 16.
Kat: I hear about those people and I am blessed in the fact that my parents had been together for 62 years. But for anyone to say that their mother or father or both threw them out. In Atlanta we had one of those hateful Christian organizations. The head of it was always chastised by the gay community because 20 years before she became the head of the Christian coalition in Atlanta she threw her lesbian daughter out. This was a Christian woman who threw her poor daughter out of the house and had not spoken to her in 20 years. I thought, “That’s Christian? And you’re her mother? What kind of mother are you?” It makes no sense to form an organization that (hurls) nothing but anti-gay this and that, fear and loathing to the gay community, when your own daughter you can’t even speak to? It boggles the mind. You simply just don’t think that human beings can be that way especially mothers and fathers to their children.
Kat also shared with me at length earlier in the evening, the story behind her creating a sanctuary for pop tarts, the website that lists them as evil, how she agrees with that despite the fact that a pop tart saved her life and how the CIA is aware that they are the true weapons of mass destruction. However, I decided that due to the top secret nature of that information, I’d keep in on the DL. Needless to say, Kat has a creative sense of humor. I hope she goes through with writing a book so that everyone will be able to enjoy her unique take on life and pop tarts.
I feel honored and grateful, to say the very least, that Kat Fitzgerald spent some one-on-one time with me and shared her story about her life, her family and her passions. Most importantly, I’m grateful that I was able to meet her, get to know her, laugh with her, work with her, be photographed by her, in fact share our community with her.
Kat, you are one hell of an amazing woman. I now know after hearing about your family, especially your mom that you didn’t fall far from the family tree. I have no idea what it was that your mom ate that helped create the person that you are. Let me tell you though, I wish more people would go on her diet. We most certainly can use people in this world that are as generous, selfless, accepting, supportive, and wildly unique as you. Well, not exactly like you. I don’t know if we could handle more than one.
Whether you believe it or not, Chicago will truly miss you. You told me that one of the promoters in San Francisco expressed some concern when she agreed to have you photograph her events. She questioned whether you’d be comfortable photographing people of diverse ethnicities, backgrounds, genders, etc. I laughed just as hard as I can imagine anyone else here in Chicago that knows you would. Obviously, they have no idea of their good fortune. I hope that sooner rather than later they realize what a gem they have in their midst. If not, you still have us. You will always have us. And you will always have Chicago as your home.
See Kat’s incredible library of photos she has on Chicago events: http://mysticimagesphotography.com/events.php
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A Chicago original of Mexican decent, Alma has been part of the Chicago’s LGBTQ community longer than she’d like to admit. She’s been maneuvering through its diverse social circles, networking relentlessly in an attempt to satisfy her need to understand and get to know the people that make up our amazing and unique community. Her path began as a social butterfly whose interests were solely to meet and entertain friends. Now her desire is to channel her strengths, talents and passion into ways she can be of service for the Chicago LGBTQ community that she so loves and respects.