Gerber/Hart Library and Archives (Gerber/Hart) celebrated its 40th anniversary with a "40 & Fabulous! The Gerber/Hart Spring Soiree" benefit April 7the birthday of one of the library's namesakes, Pearl Hartat Sidetrack.
Gerber/Hart, according to its website, "seeks to preserve and make accessible the history and culture of the LGBTQ+ communities in Chicago and the Midwest in order to advance the larger goal of achieving justice and equality" while also serving as a lending library that is open to everyone.
The festive atmosphere included books from Gerber/Hart stacked throughout the venue.
Emmy-nominated NBC-5 Chicago Today co-host Matthew Rodrigues emceed the event. Rodrigues told the audience that discovering Gerber/Hart (he is a newcomer to the city) has given him a new insight into Chicago's LGBTQ+ history and the community. He added that preserving this history and making it available to everyone is especially vital right now due to GOP-controlled states attempting and, at times, succeeding in rolling back LGBTQ+ equality.
Rodrigues also led everyone in singing "Happy Birthday" to Gerber/Hart; told attendees that this week was also National Library Week; expressed a desire to have libraries like Gerber/Hart in other locations around the globe; noted newly confirmed U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson; and encouraged everyone to remind their friends and family members to vote in November. (Primary elections are in June as well.)
Chicago drag sensation and Theo Ubique Cabaret Theater Board Member Coco Sho-Nell's two performances elicited rousing cheers from attendees. Confetti was released at the end of Sho-Nell's second performance.
"I wanted to take some time to extend my gratitude and congratulations to the Gerber/Hart organization for 40 memorable years of service to the LGBTQ+ in Chicago," said state Sen. Mike Simmons in a video message. "As the first openly gay Illinois state senator, this is obviously so important to me for so many reasons. We are lucky to have such a pillar in our community such as this organization, preserving and championing LGBTQ+ history in Chicago and the entire Midwest."
Simmons added that it is even more vital now to share and preserve this history especially in light of right-wing legislatures introducing and passing numerous anti-LGBTQ laws across the United States that "erase and silence our communities, our family and our history." He also celebrated the archivists who do this work. Additionally, Simmons expressed regret at being unable to attend due to the current legislative session downstate.
Gerber/Hart's Unboxing Queer History podcast co-creators and co-hosts Jen Dentel (Gerber/Hart programs and social-media coordinator) and Erin Bell (Gerber/Hart volunteer librarian/archivist and Oak Point University library services manager) both spoke about the podcast topics they delve into and how they decide on these topics utilizing the library's archives. They are hoping to do more episodes, however, that will require more funding.
Renowned author and Lambda Literary nominee Yvonne Zipter (whose archives are housed at Gerber/Hart) read her new "Traveling Library" poem that begins, "There were no sidewalks, on Mill Road, but there was a bookmobile. I'd walk with my mother across the muddy, undeveloped lots between our house and the rolling library's weekly stop …"
Zipter also thanked Gerber/Hart for keeping her archives and supporting her work.
A Gerber/Hart video tribute from award-winning filmmaker C. J. Arellano was played featuring LGBTQ+ historians and authors John D'Emilio and Owen Keehnen, staffers and others talking about the vital work the library does to preserve history. The video included still images from the library's archives, staffers at work and patrons. The overall message was how important it is for this library to exist. They also talked about how they came to know about Gerber/Hart and the changes that have been made to the library over the years.
Gerber/Hart Board Co-Chairs James Conley and Kevin Nunley also spoke.
Donations were solicited by Gerber/Hart Development Coordinator Michael Rashid, Rodrigues and Sho-Nell, with a number of people giving $500 or more each to help fund a new part-time archivist and other initiatives. Rashid said the organization is looking to move to a larger location when funds allow.
The event also featured a silent auction and a lightning-round raffle session to close the festivities, with all of the proceeds going to Gerber/Hart.
GCM Grosvenor was the principal sponsor of the event alongside co-sponsors Howard Brown Health and Sidetrack.
See gerberhart.org/ .