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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-09-06



Legacy Project bridges historical gaps with education initiative
by Matthew C. Clark

This article shared 4373 times since Wed Jun 26, 2013
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Legacy Project Founder and Executive Director Victor Salvo will admit that history isn't sexy, and that what most people know about the past is what they learned from high school.

For him, that is why it is so important to give people pause to think about history, especially the history of the LGBT people.

"It's particularly hard for gay and transgender people growing up, who have had everything redacted," he told Windy City Times. "This is a community that had to fight its way to get people to embrace its own history."

Salvo said it's more difficult to marginalize the LGBT community it is aware of its collective experiences and continuity.

And now the Legacy Project is devoting those resources to young people.

The Legacy Project announced this year the launch of the Legacy Project Education Initiative (LPEI), a comprehensive, LGBT educational resource for educators, young people and parents.

Originally conceived the same time as the Legacy Walk, a walking tour of LGBT history makers located along Halsted Street in Lakeview, the LPEI is based on the biographies of the history makers, and provides lesson plans for educators and material for young people.

"The idea of there being an educational component had always been there from the beginning," Salvo said.

After spending years developing the material, the LPEI announced its launch in April during the Night of Noise, a commemorative celebration at the end of the Day of Silence.

The LPEI makes the Legacy Project's over 200 biographies of LGBT history makers available to young people on their website, while also providing lesson plans on the 18 inductees of the actual Legacy Walk, which students can tour on trips.

According to Salvo, the LPEI will have a hard launch this year, beginning in the fall term, after receiving feedback from students.

The LPEI is co-sponsored by the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, which has helped connect the initiative with Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) networks in schools to coordinate tours of the Legacy Walk.

"[The Legacy Walk] was always created to be an outdoor classroom," Salvo said. "That's where the rubber meets the road with the Legacy Project."

School groups can take a daylong trip to tour of the Legacy Walk that begins at the Center on Halsted, which donates its space.

Students are provided a packet of material, taken on a guided tour of the Legacy Walk, and break into groups for discussion and activity sessions.

The Legacy Project has already conducted several tours for both high-school and college-aged youth.

The tours and materials fill a need for historical information about the LGBT community that youth are not getting, while also providing an opportunity for intergenerational dialogue within a community where relationships between adults and youth have been negatively stigmatized.

"To a kid, to go on an actual trip where you can learn about people like themselves is just astounding," Salvo said. "There is such a hunger for this information that kids can't get anywhere else."

In December of last year, the LPEI conducted a tour with students from Lyons Township High School GSA, from La Grange.

Project Shout Out of Northwestern University has used the material to initiate conversation in some high schools and provide educators with their own materials to create mock-up plagues of the inductees in their own schools—one of the many activities in development that Salvo hopes the initiative will be able to tour at high schools across the region.

Salvo said the biographies have been centered on themes and arcs in the individuals' lives that speak to experiences of youth.

"If somebody is struggling with some other thing that's happening in their life besides being gay," he said. "They all overcame and that's the thing we really try to stress with the kids."

Salvo said the project also helps to address bullying based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

"When people know better they do better," he said. "If you can catch kids that can still be reached, and give them any kind of information that can give them pause, you can potentially change the way they think about people."

Salvo said the LPEI is especially important because there are no existing age-appropriate matters for young people.

He said one high school student from a rural, Christian family, who recently toured the Legacy Walk on a GSA-sponsored tour, was thankful for being able to spend three hours on the LPEI's online archive with his mother.

"There's no other website where he could do that without coming across an underwear ad within two clicks," Salvo said.

LPEI Co-Director Gerri Spinella is an educational consultant with a long history of working on gay and lesbian rights, who helped develop the resources for schools.

Spinella said she remembers herself trying to look books up on being gay when she was a young person, in a small library in a small town.

"I really think it provides a role model for all students, whether they're gay or straight," she told Windy City Times. "But it been my experience that it holds a special place for those students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender."

Spinella said the biographies take a deeper look at who the individuals are.

"Society needs to know that there's this layer, because it provides a whole other layer by which people learn about culture, families, and communities on a deeper level." she said.

Spinella, whose dissertation addressed educator's attitudes towards homosexuality, says that teachers don't have the knowledge base to deal with gay students, and that this material gives them that knowledge, promoting the well being for all students.

LPEI Co-Director Gabriel Gomez, who helped develop the resources with Spinella, told Windy City Times he hopes the Legacy Walk can be an education opportunity for all who feel connected to the neighborhood.

"We hope that this project will not only encourage people to understand our history, but also encourage local youth who come to the neighborhood to see themselves reflected in this civic expression, one that mirrors the cultural diversity we really represent as a community," he said. "Our LGBT community is truly diverse"

Gomez will be presenting two papers on the LPEI in July at international conferences in Barcelona and Athens.

LPEI researcher Carrie Maxwell (who is also a reporter for Windy City Times) said that the project is particularly important to her, as a history teacher.

Maxwell said the initiative helps breakdown some of the inherent biases in histories about white, straight men.

"Teachers also won't have to worry about creating their own education initiatives," Maxwell said. "This has been vetted."

LPEI is a volunteer project, with an upcoming publication in the Journal of Museum Education for its focus on a non-profit, community-driven education project.

Fifth Third Bank has become the official sponsor the LPEI, providing a grant for multimedia material, but the project is hoping to become a fully-funded, community supported nonprofit.

LPEI is currently looking into possible revenue streams for funding, including tourism. The North Halsted Business Alliance will be conducting a private tour June 27. For more information visit .

For more information on LPEI, visit or .

This article shared 4373 times since Wed Jun 26, 2013
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