Contrary to conventional wisdom, queers exist on the South Side. Native South Sider Janet Anne Bloom, 56, decided pilgrimages should not be necessary for LGBTQ people to find community.
Bloom launched Southside LGBTQ ( Let's Gather, Building Together Quality community ) Group at the Unity Center, 3339 S. Halsted St., in July. It draws about 20 LGBTQ peopleages 21 and olderand meets from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on the second Monday of each month. Members range in age from 21 to 73.
"It's nice to have a safe space to be queer without going north," Bloom said.
The Unity Center, located in Bridgeport, began serving Lithuanians who began coming to Chicago and locating in that neighborhood. It served as a community center, from where a social network grew, according to Bloom.
It now serves the larger Bridgeport community. For instance, it's where people can sign up for the Low Income Heating and Electricity Assistance Program ( LIHEAP ). That is how Bloom discovered the Unity Center. Bloom is a cancer survivor, who was homeless before moving to Bridgeport.
Bloom is also an out and proud lesbian who identifies as queer and likes to knit. Testing the waters, Bloom asked Unity Center brass about holding a knitting groupbefore asking about a LGBTQ group.
She said they were enthusiastic about reaching out to the LGBTQ community, given the group's intended demographic. Each meeting begins with members sharing "one good thing" that happened.
Although the group has a varied age range, it averages under age 30. So, Bloom spends some time educating the young LGBTQ people about darker days in Chicago's queer community.
She shared the story about the Sept. 12, 1985, raid of the now-defunct Carol's Speakeasy, 1355 N. Wells St. A member confused the event with the Stonewall uprising. Bloom remembers being "in the bars before the time that sex killed." Most of the bars she frequented have closed.
Of course, not all group activity is that heavy. Game nights could include playing Cards Against Humanity. Also, members might just sit around and talk or network, or they might go on "field trips" to plays or LGBT institutions like The Baton.
However, they'll be participating in a drumming circle in First Lutheran Church of the Trinity's parking lot on April 24. The house of worship is Bridgeport's first church to welcome LGBTQ people to attend.
"We're here [and] we're queerwithout fear," Bloom said. "It's about time the South Side acknowledges the queer community."
Showing affection to your same-sex partner isn't safe on the South Side, Bloom said. She believes the group would help form coalition for equality.
"There's safety in numbers," Bloom said. "That fight needs to come to the South Side."
She's clear about her ultimate goal.
"There doesn't have to be acceptance," Bloom said. "There has to be tolerance. They don't have to like it."
For more information, visit the group at its Facebook page, www.facebook.com/groups/510479442403878/ .