LGBTQ+ Voices: Interview with Harry Di Lise
Harry Di Lise, retired social worker and founding member of Nebraska AIDS Project, was interviewed by Luke Wegener on November 28, 2017 in Omaha, Nebraska. Di Lise shared information about his upbringing in Chicago, desire to become a priest, coming out as gay in the 1970's, his lengthy career at Nebraska Child Protective Services, founding Nebraska AIDS Project, and his relationship with family.
Harry Di Lise is a social worker, advocate for foster children, and one of the founding members of Nebraska AIDS Project (NAP). Di Lise was born in Chicago, Illinois to Genevieve and Anthony Di Lise and grew up in a conservative, white, Italian Catholic family with his brother, Charles. Di Lise earned his BA in Sociology and Philosophy from Creighton University in 1971, and a MA in Social Work from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 1978. While working for Nebraska's Child Protective Services for nearly four decades (1971-2010), Di Lise dedicated his life to advocating for abused and neglected children in the foster care system. A self-described "defiant Catholic" who has been passionate about his faith since childhood, Di Lise works to promote inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in the Catholic Church through participation in DignityUSA, a Catholic LGBTQ+ advocacy organization. After retiring in 2010, Di Lise spends his time volunteering for Nebraska AIDS Project, supporting River City Mixed Chorus, and enjoys the company of his friends and community. He resides in Dundee neighborhood of Omaha with his albino cat, Bianca, and two schnauzers, Misty and Coco.
Harry Di Lise, retired social worker and founding member of Nebraska AIDS Project, was interviewed by Luke Wegener on November 28, 2017 in Omaha, Nebraska. Di Lise grew up in a conservative, white, Italian Catholic family. Not interested in the "typical" sports as a young boy, Di Lise experienced frequent put-downs about his masculinity. Passionate about his faith from a young age, Di Lise knew he wanted to be a Catholic priest and would later spend 9 years in seminary. After graduating with a BA in Sociology and Philosophy from Creighton University in 1971, he left the seminary and went on to earn his MA in Social Work from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 1978. While beginning his career at Nebraska Child Protective Services in 1971 and starting to understand his sexuality, Di Lise experienced a life changing moment when he discovered his first gay bar while overhearing a coworker's conversation. Unable to walk through the front door the first several times, he finally worked up the courage to enter and experienced great relief, finally feeling at home. He would later have his first date and romantic experiences as a result of the connections to other gay men he developed at the bar. He became involved with Omaha's Holy Family Church, Metropolitan Community Church, and DignityUSA, a Catholic organization that works to promote the inclusion of LGBTQ+ Catholics.
On Christmas Eve 1978, Di Lise's father used anti-gay slurs against him in an argument and he was disowned by his parents, who he did not see again for 15 years. After reconnecting, Di Lise’s relationship with his parents and brother remained strained.
In 1984, Di Lise was a founding member along with Ray Hoffman, Mike Thorphinnson, Jim Schumacher, Barry Landes, and Marta Hopkinson, of what would later be known as Nebraska Aids Project (NAP). Di Lise designed the hotline manual, trained and screened volunteers, and did fundraising for the hotline. In 1987, after operating for years out of bars and kitchens, NAP received funding to open an office space on 37th and Leavenworth St. and began to grow.
While at Nebraska Child Protective Services from 1971-2010, Di Lise worked tirelessly to advocate for neglected and abused children in the foster care system. An overall positive workplace environment, Di Lise still experienced numerous instances of discrimination for his sexuality. After retiring in 2010, Di Lise spends his time volunteering for Nebraska AIDS Project, supporting River City Mixed Chorus, and enjoys the company of his friends and community.
Neighbor dogs and refrigerator hum can be heard briefly throughout interview.