On the afternoon of Oct. 15, the Legacy Project celebrated its 10th anniversary with the dedication of three new bronze memorials along Chicago's Legacy Walk.
The Legacy Walk, which runs along Halsted Street between Addison and Belmont avenues, is the only installation of its kind and the largest LGBTQ+ site in the world to be declared a historic landmark. As with every year starting from 2012, the Legacy Walk dedicated three memorials along the street that reflect the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community. This year's ceremony also included a reception that Northalsted nightspot Sidetrack hosted after the dedications, as the venue has done previously.
The 2022 inductees included Dr. Alan L. Hart, Jose Sarria and Daniel Sotomayor.
Braving a chilled wind and sunny skies, Legacy Project co-founder Victor Salvo welcomed an ever-expanding crowd that included many who flew into Chicago from as far away as California. Speaking at length on the importance of The Legacy Project, Salvo spoke about how the result in 2012 was the culmination of decades of work and is especially important for preserving the LGBTQ+ community's history.
The first presentation was for Hart, a trans individual who is credited with pioneering X-ray technology in the 1940s to identify carriers of tuberculosis. His work led directly to containing the disease and ensuring that those who were exposed were treated in sanitariums. Many people at the time did not know that Hart was a trans man and he constantly had to move to escape being exposed. His first wife divorced him as a result of the constant outing, while his second wife stayed with him until his death of heart failure in 1962 at age 71.
Artist/printmaker Jordan Dauby spoke about his late partner, William A. Jackson, by prefacing that he "was an extraordinary ordinary man." After recounting Jackson's activism and accomplishments (which included starting the first venereal disease clinic for gays in Chicago and raising the seed money for what is now Howard Brown Health), Dauby said, "Like William A. Jackson, like Dr. Alan L. Hart, like all those represented on this legacy walk, all 'ordinary people' like you and Iall doing something in our lives extremely well. We make our ordinary world a bit more extraordinary."
He also said, "I commend the Legacy Project in Chicago, the "Can Do" city, for bringing forward from the almost lost pages of our history and from past and present events to younger generations, for eyes are watching. Someone is looking to be inspired or encouraged, someone is needing to know that they 'can do.'"
Looking resplendent in a flowing ceremonial gown topped with an ornate crown, activist Nicole Murray Ramirez, the Queen Mother of America was flanked by members of her Imperial Court. Speaking about Sarria (who passed away in 2013), she told of his achievements as a World War II veteran and his frustrations on being denied a chance to become a schoolteacher and educator due to his sexuality. Focusing his energies into politics, in 1961 he became the first openly gay man to run for public office. He unsuccessfully ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors while co-creating the Imperial Court, a queer-focused group that spans the United States and Canada, spawning satellite organizations that have thrown balls and pageants that have provided funds for a wide number of LGBTQ+ organizations. Ramirez also noted that the current mayor of her home city, San Diego, is a gay man (Todd Gloria) as she read a proclamation for Chicagoand presented an award to Salvo and the Legacy Project for their mission in acknowledging forgotten members of the community.
Salvo barely got through his opening remarks for his friend, activist Daniel Sotomayor (who passed in 1992 at only 33). Open Hand co-founder Lori Cannon started what turned out to be the most emotional segment of the dedication with an amusing quote. "Why is that kid always yelling at me?" former Mayor Richard M. Daley would ask, referring to Sotomayor's public confrontations during the AIDS crises. (Daley was in office from 1989 to 2011). Cannon said, "From the beginning, it was apparent that Danny was the most notorious and explosive activist this city would come to know. A vibrant, angry young man, Danny used his activism and considerable artistic talent to strip away the rhetoric that too often concealed misguided AIDS policies. He infiltrated mayoral press conferences to blow the whistle on Chicago's inadequate AIDS awareness campaigns and refused to be silenced by his own community. He took the heat for his unapologetic criticism of the Daley Administration long before any of his politically beholden peers had the courage to do so."
She quoted Sotomayor as saying, "I'm proud of the role I've had. I really feel connected to the gay community. I don't feel that I've betrayed that connection. I had no hidden agenda; you know what I want and you know what I am after. I cannot be boughtthat's me."
Sotomayor's activism found its way into print with the publication of hundreds of his political cartoons in gay newspapers illustrating his anger with AIDS government inaction, the insurance industry, the healthcare system, pharmaceutical companies and AIDS activists themselves. In the four years from when he seroconverted to full-blown AIDS to his death, Sotomayor co-founded and became the most recognized member of the in-your-face activist group ACT UP.
Cannon closed with another quote from Sotomayor: "Fighting AIDS is not about climbing out on balconies or about street theater. It's about healing people with AIDS. You just have to do what you can and never give up because someday there are going to be survivors."