The Patch, 201 155th St, Calumet City, IL 60409
Elizabeth E. Tocci (December 22, 1935 - December 5, 2010) opened her first gay bar in 1963 and, beginning in 1971, owned and ran The Patch in Calumet City, which became one of the oldest lesbian-owned establishments in the nation. She was active in local business circles and has long given financial aid and a supportive to lesbian and gay persons.
Elizabeth E. Tocci (known as “Toc”) was born on Chicago’s South Side and raised in the Pullman and Roseland neighborhoods, where she spent the first 28 years of her life. She opened her first gay bar, called the 307 Club, in 1963; since 1971, Toc owned and operated The Patch in Calumet City, one of the oldest lesbian-owned establishments in the Chicago area or the country.
She provided a welcoming space for lesbians and gay men, beginning in a time when few such places were available, particularly for lesbians. “There were straight- owned establishments where gay people would go, but before I opened up there were no gay- owned places.” The Patch was always home to a diverse clientele: “Women drove down from the North Side, from the South Side; this was the only place going.” Toc also provided a venue for gay and lesbian performers over the years; singers such as Nancy Hill and Valerie James regularly performed to crowds of enthusiastic women.
Toc supported numerous causes, including the Changing Woman Center, a counseling center for victims of domestic violence and rape; the Calumet City Resource Center; and Chicago House. She provided sponsorship of women’s sports, offering financial and moral support for softball, basketball, flag football, and bowling teams. She helped raise money for the Windy City Athletic Association, to assist teams participating in the Gay Games. Toc helped to establish PRISM, a women’s group which focuses on education, financial planning, women’s self-defense, legal rights of lesbian partners, and entertainment. The PRISM Post newspaper, initiated in June 1993, provided outreach to lesbians in the south suburbs.
During her lifetime Toc made an impact on the gay and lesbian community not only by providing a safe haven for gays and lesbians to meet and socialize but also by contributing to their growth and development of a positive self-image. Her abundant generosity was demonstrated on occasions too numerous to count, including financial support for those who need assistance due to extended illness or who have suffered the death of a partner.
While Tocci was honored by the Calumet City Chamber of Commerce for her many years of service to the business community, she also had to confront harassment by homophobic members of the local population. The bar windows were broken out, and Toc noted, “It’s hard to come out here.” She believed the atmosphere in the 1990s was more calm: “I know gay people who manage banks; gay lawyers come into The Patch. I’m gay and I’m proud. I don’t know anything else.”