Community members gathered Oct. 11 for the unveiling of seven new plaques along Halsted Street's Legacy Walk.
Legacy Project officials and volunteers, local activists and students from Lincoln Park High School were on hand to pay tribute to the new inductees: Cole Porter, Sally Ride, "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias, Father Mychal Judge, David Kato, Audre Lorde and the Stonewall Riots.
The Legacy Walk, which was launched in 2012, is intended as an open-air museum and youth education project recording the notable contributions of LGBT individuals.
"The Legacy Walk and the now-thirty individuals who occupy it are our guardian angels for this community," said Victor Salvo, executive director of the Legacy Project. "They all come from different walks of life, had different experiences, came from different eras. The decisions that they madesome of them were ones you can relate to, some of them are ones you never possibly could have made[show] it's all about the journey that all of us takes, that brings us through life. The fact that all these people are here, with such a breadth of experience, is enormously important."
After opening remarks about Cole Porter from Queer Film Society President Richard Knight, Gregory "Blue" Pittsley, said he was inspired to sponsor the plaque because his father, who was closeted, knew Porter.
"Like Cole Porter, he was a multi-talented person, with a fantastic voice, who was a very gifted piano player," said Pittsley. "He could sit down at the piano and play for hours."
Nancy Van Brundt, cousin to Dr. Sally Ride, said Ride was "a trailblazer in many ways. We think of her as the first American woman astronaut, [but] she went on to take on the STEM Sally Ride Science Project to encourage 11-, 12-, 13-year-old girls to pursue the sciences and math. …We are, as a family, quite proud to have Sally's plaque here in Chicago along Halsted Street."
Salvo spoke about bisexual athlete Zaharias, and said, "The cool thing about Babe is that so much of the hype in her accomplishment as an athlete in some ways derives her own interest in embellishing her own legend because, at the time she was at the top of her game, the best known woman athlete was Sonja Henie. …She sacrificed so much in her life just to carve out a tiny space for something. I was reading about her training regimen and it was mind-boggling that she survived the training, let alone got good enough to compete."
Father Mychal Judge, a gay priest who died on 9/11, was remembered by Martin Grochala of Dignity/Chicago, which headed up the effort to sponsor his plaque on behalf of many organizations.
"Dignity/Chicago's affinity for Mychal Judge comes in recognition of his ministry to Dignity New York, to the poor, the marginalized, people living with AIDS and many individuals just struggling to understand their place in this world," Grochala said. "We, like Father Mychal have found our ministry outside the formal walls of our church, and have refused to be silent about our relationship with God and as LGBTQI people. We hope Father Mychal's life will serve as inspiration to future generations and reconition of so many whose selfless service has brought healing to our world."
Daniel Weyl of Heartland Alliance spoke about Kato, who was murdered in 2011 for his advocacy on behalf of LGBT citizens of Uganda. "David knew very well [about] the risks associated with his activism, but never allowed the threats he faced to interfere with his fight for equality and progress," he said.
Kato's plaque was not completed in time for the ceremonies. According to Salvo, finding experts to vet the text on the plaque took several weeks longer for the plaque since so few people in Uganda were able to safely speak about him. For the moment a facsimile of the plaque will be up in its place. Another separate ceremony will be held after the plaque arrives.
The final plaque, dedicated to poet Audre Lorde, was sponsored in honor of the memory of activist Vernita Gray, who died in February.
"For a lot of us here right now, this is the one with the huge emotional wallop," Salvo said.
Robin Mitchell of DePaul University noted Gray's passion for Lorde's work, and what influence it had on Gray's life: "Audre Lorde was able to harness the collective anger and the collective power of lesbian and women of color feminists who were systematically excluded from mainstream feminism and turned that into collective, definitive action."
Pat Ewert, Gray's widow, said, "This would make Vernita very happy, to know that she is sharing this plaque. …She left a real mark on our city, on our hearts, and she will forever be missed. This is a wonderful honor. It's the community that made this happen."
The Stonewall Riots is the first milestone event to receive a Legacy Walk plaque. Beth Kelly of DePaul University, who consulted on the plaque, reminded the audience that it was National Coming Out Day.
"Being out prior to 1969 meant something very different than it does today," she added, saying the entire world seemed to be "one big closet. …Stonewall was the end of the beginning, and look where that beginning has taken us today."
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