Community members of all ages gathered at Dorothy, 2500 W. Chicago Ave., the evening of June 15 to hear stories from five senior members of the LGBTQ+ community.
The standing room only event was hosted by Gerber/Hart Library and Archives and included participants in School of the Art Institute of Chicago's LGBTQ+ Intergenerational Dialogues course, taught by anthropologist Karen Morris. The course in presented in conjunction with Center on Halsted and University of Illinois at Chicago.
Throughout the night, panelistsAlice Coleman, 73, Carmen White, Helen Haug, 75, Danie Muriello, 71, and Marti Smith, 73shared photos from their past and told stories of their personal hardships, triumphs, communities, and families. The moderator, archivist and educator Kaitlyn Griffith, also encouraged the audience to clap, cheer, and participate in the storytelling, which created a warm sense of connection building across the generations.
Every panelist shared moments from their past that contributed to their relationships and identity today. Haug showed two photos of herself at the same beach in Atlantic City: one where she was about 5 years old, and one from just this past month. She spoke about how, when she was a child, she felt "no pressure to be anybody else but me."
The pressures of being raised as a girl with no language to describe her experience eventually crowded in on Haug. Well into her adulthood, she started to explore her gender and sexuality, and met her adoring wife, Pam, when she was 60. Pointing to the picture of her and Pam on the beach as adults, she explained, "I'm 75. That was three weeks ago, and I'm still being me."
Danie, a trans woman who transitioned later in life, told the story of choosing a name for herself, Ooma, for her grandchildren, while still acknowledging her past role as a father to her children. She explained, "This is the history I wanted to share with you. I don't have an extensive queer history, but we are here, I have always been here, and I have learned that, despite the fact that I wasn't affirmed growing up, I'm here. Not just for me, but for everyone."
Towards the end of the panel, Coleman, who is Black, reminded the audience that she would not have been able to access spaces like Dorothy's when she was younger. She used to need her license, and then her passport, and then a third form of ID, exemplifying the racism that came with queer spaces when she was younger. She explained, "When I was in my twenties and thirties, I don't think I ever would have imagined there would come a time I would be talking and laughing [at a bar like this]." She pointed to the progress made in the community, but noted that there is so much more to do.
Jen Dentel, co-organizer of the event and Programs and Social Media Coordinator at Gerber/ Hart, reflected on the purpose of the event. She said, "I think the idea of a lineage and ancestry is something a lot of our community craves. Hearing stories from our elders…makes it so clear that we've always been here and gives people a sense of our history."