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History: Chicagoans Reflect
2006-10-25

This article shared 2824 times since Wed Oct 25, 2006
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Jorjet Harper: I remember years ago—it was in the early 1980s—walking down a North Side Chicago street with a group of lesbians, on our way to a women's party at someone's house. A group of tough-looking teens spotted us and started shouting names and following us. We were just a half-block from where we were going. A few of us shouted back defiantly, but we all picked up our pace a bit, and we got to the house without incident.

Back then, even in the relative safety of a large group, you had to always be ready for name-calling and the threat of violence if you were in any way recognizable as gay. Sometimes I think that we've become complacent and forgotten how street-smart we still need to be at times. This year, I was waiting at the bus stop at Lawrence and Kimball, on my way to meet some friends for brunch before the Pride Parade. Since the Kimball train terminal was closed, there was a bigger-than-usual crowd of people near the corner waiting for the bus.

Off to one side was a large faction of tough-looking high-schoolers, with their caps turned backwards. They were mock-punching each other, and generally being loud and physical.

I also spotted one middle-aged gay couple, and then another, in the crowd. They weren't wearing any obvious gay signs, but they were clearly gay, so I figured that they, like me, were on their way east for the parade.

Uh-oh, I thought to myself—this could get ugly. The gay men were vulnerable, and the teens—at least a dozen of them—were in an expansive, showoff-y mood.

Then three young women arrived to join the teen group—and these three were wearing strands of rainbow beads. One very butch-looking girl had draped a rainbow flag around her T-shirt. There were shouts of recognition and hugs. And I realized suddenly that all of these rowdy, tough-looking teens were also on their way to the Pride Parade.

It's hard for me to describe the satisfaction and even gratitutde I felt watching this one momentary street interaction. It brought home to me once again that there has been a real sea change in who are 'us' and who are 'them'. It's fantastic—and it really does matter.

Jorjet Harper is a writer, singer, and all-around jill of all trades. She has written for the LGBT press since the early 1980s, and is the author of Lesbomania.

Kevin Boyer: In 1994, when Rodney Wilson ( a teacher in St. Louis ) first contacted me as Board President of Gerber/Hart Library for help on establishing an LGBT History month, I remember being surprised that such a commemoration didn't already exist. Oh, sure, since 1970 our community has celebrated pride as we commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion. Parades have become full-fledged Pride Months in many places and often include acknowledgement of the history of our community. But Pride has always felt more like a celebration in larger cities and a coming out declaration in smaller towns—a way for our community to publicly declare to the world that 'Gay is OK.' With parades being the focus of media attention, there is little opportunity to talk about the central, everyday contributions made to the world by LGBT men and women—out or not. And, of course, June celebrations provide no substantial opportunity for a key purpose of LGBT History Month—educating young people while their minds are on learning during the school year.

Helping to found LGBT History month wasn't glamorous. Just this last week I found a simple 'history month' mailing list I had created two years ago. It is filled with the names and addresses of 250 people, with notes that they had paid $5 or $10 to cover copying and postage costs to receive an educational packet the History Month steering committee had compiled. Librarians in Michigan, teachers in Florida, community leaders in California, the governor's staff in Oregon—all were energetically supporting the call to help start something that we now celebrate throughout the U.S. and beyond.

Memories of standing in front of the copier at Gerber/Hart library or stuffing envelopes with 50-page packets came flooding back as I looked at this list of people. Since then I've been part of two very important moments in Chicago's LGBT history—the 1996 founding of the Chicago Area Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and the 2003 decision to re-bid for the honor to host the 2006 Gay Games. But each of these moments, just like the founding of LGBT History Month, was built upon a series of small, simple acts like my time in front of the Gerber/Hart copier in 1994.

These small moments are the things that make up who we are as a people. LGBT History Month is a celebration of the small as much as a celebration of the grand; it's about life, not a lifestyle. Do something today that will make yourself proud and you, too, will be part of what makes this month's celebration so special.

Kevin Boyer is recognized as one of the co-founders of LGBT History Month in 1994. He is a two-term former president of the Gerber/Hart Gay & Lesbian Library & Archives ( 1994-1995 ) , four-term and founding co-chair of the Chicago Area Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce ( 1996-2000 ) and is the Board Co-Vice Chair of the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago, having served on the Gay Games Chicago Board since 1999. He is a native of Salt Lake City, Utah.


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