Kim L. Hunt, MPP ’04, is an executive director at the AIDS Foundation Chicago and a leading advocate for issues relating to the Black and LGBTQ+ communities. In her varied career, the Kansas City native co-led a march on Springfield for marriage equality, ran her own consulting firm, wrote political columns for FOP Magazine, served as a co-host for a monthly LGBTQ-focused storytelling show at Sidetrack on North Halsted in Chicago, and was instrumental in getting state legislation passed that allowed Illinois businesses to have multi-stall all-gender restrooms. Here, we chat about her path and her life’s work—and the ways her Harris School experience influenced both.

Kim Hunt, MPP ’04 - Photo by RUSH Creative Media

What led you to enroll at Harris when you already had two degrees and a successful job at the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA)?

I had been working at the CTA, and policy side of my work there was the side that I was most interested in. I was not just interested in the way trains and buses flow. I wanted to grow and challenge myself, and Harris seemed like a good fit.

What was your Harris experience like?

I had been forewarned that it was a heavily quantitative program, so that terrified me. On the first day of class, as a 40-something-year-old, I was relieved to see another older student there, and I met people who were just as nervous about the core. We had a two-week-long math camp and I settled into the chaos quickly.

What classes really stirred you up?

Colm O’Muircheartaigh made statistics accessible. You could tell someone who really knows their craft because they can explain it to folks who don’t know it. For economics classes, it was the same situation. I never understood economics until I took a class with Don Coursey, and then wound up taking the second economics class. I wondered, “What is wrong with me? I’m loving this.”

Did you find lessons that were applicable to what you had seen on the job?

There were courses like organizational theory that talked about interactions between supervisors and managers in the workplace and how decisions are made. And having been out in the work world, it was like, “I’ve got real-life examples of this stuff. You’re naming all the things that I’ve witnessed.”

If you could give any advice to Harris students now, what would it be?

Enjoy the experience and get to know your classmates. They will get you through. If it wasn’t for my core group of folks, I would not have graduated from Harris—and they probably wouldn’t have either! So get those friendships. You deserve to be there.

"I wanted to grow and challenge myself, and Harris seemed like a good fit." - Photo by Dan Eggert

Did you plan to get involved in LGBTQ+ advocacy and leadership?

I came out in my thirties and one of the things that my ex-husband, who is still a good friend, said was, “I foresee you doing really important things in the LGBTQ community.” And I thought, “Well, that’s ridiculous. I don’t even know the LGBTQ community.” Then, years later when I was all in, it was like, “Damn, he predicted this.”

What are your memories of the 2013 March on Springfield for Marriage Equality?

Tracy Baim, the co-founder of the Windy City Times, organized the march. I was one of the 13 folks on the steering committee, so we were pulling resources together, recruiting people to get on buses and come to Springfield during the Illinois Legislature’s veto session that year, because that’s when the bill was going to be called. It was amazing. I think the head count was about 5,000 people, and it was the largest LGBTQ demonstration to take place in Springfield. There were legislators coming out to talk to the crowd. That was one of the things that got us over the hump to get just enough votes.

You’ve been at the AIDS Foundation Chicago for more than eight years now. Have you seen advances in the fight against HIV in that time?

One of the initiatives that falls under my domain is Getting to Zero, a plan to end the HIV epidemic in Illinois. The goal is to make sure that folks are in care, and that there are preventative treatments as well. PrEP is a drug that is shown to be 99.9% effective in preventing the transmission of HIV. It’s a game changer. Unfortunately, the uptake isn’t high in Black and brown communities, which are most impacted by HIV. So we’re really pushing to let folks know PrEP is available and letting providers know that they can talk about sexual health with their clients.

How did you get involved in the Pride Action Tank at the AIDS Foundation Chicago?

As the fight for marriage equality was winding down in Illinois, we were thinking about how we could shift some of this momentum to other things that are important to the LGBTQ community. The Pride Action Tank was an answer to that. We did a summit on LGBTQ youth homelessness in 2014, which created a space where they could be fully present as we asked questions about their lives and the world they wanted to see for themselves and others. We brought together service providers, funders, policymakers, researchers, and youth and had solutions-based conversations, keynote speakers, and panel discussions. That opened our eyes to the possibility of creating a model where everybody is part of the solution, which became the basis for Pride Action Tank.

"I came to appreciate how stories break down barriers, but also tie us to each other's humanity." - Photo by Rebecca Parrish

Was it a profound change going from working with a younger demographic to an older one on the LGBTQ Older Adults Photo Project?

That was a result of having some training called “Reframing Aging” that looks toward having a different narrative around aging. We’re often looking for images, and as we put different documents together, we couldn’t find much on LGBTQ older adults. So we got awarded a grant to do a couple of photo shoots with an amazing professional photographer. During a program that followed this photo shoot, one of the models said they identify as a trans man, and when they were growing up, they did not have the words for this. The photos were the first time they saw themselves as themselves.

How did the Community Restroom Access Project come about?

I was meeting with a group of friends, some who identified as non-binary, some who identified as trans, and they said, “We’re tired of being harassed in bathrooms. We just want to go to the bathroom.” There were building code issues, we’d gotten a plumbing code change, we worked with architects to talk about universal design, we’ve done educational videos, we created toolkits and surveys. And last spring, our eight-year dream finally came true when legislation passed and was signed by the governor that allows businesses to have multi-stall, all-gender restrooms. When I sent an e-mail to all the folks who were there from the very beginning, they were ecstatic: “We just got the bathroom law changed! Woo-hoo, it only took eight years!”

Can you talk a little bit about why storytelling is central to your career and what you do?

I had the pleasure of serving as a co-host for monthly LGBTQ-focused storytelling show that happens at Sidetrack on North Halsted. It's still going strong. I came to appreciate how stories break down barriers, but also tie us to each other's humanity; it can be a way to help elected officials and other policymakers understand the nuances and see that these are individual people—not just numbers on the page.

You’ve taken up so many fights and have stated that everyone seems to focus on resilience while forgetting to talk about joy. What brings you joy?

I’ve added a morning ritual of getting up a little earlier so that I can have my tea and read for 30 minutes with the candle going. I hate getting up, but then once I’m in that zone I remember, “This is worth getting up for.”

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