I am a child of the Chicago Tribune newspaperand I do mean that in a pretty literal way.
My mom and stepdad ( Joy Darrow and Steve Pratt ) met as reporters at the Tribune circa 1968, when I was 5 years old and already enamored with newspapers. By the time I was 10, I was a frequent guest of Steve's in the Tribune newsroom, and at the Chicago Defender, where my mom went to work in the early 1970s.
These were the years of pretty inadequate and arguably biased reporting on gay and lesbian issues. A time when the Tribune ( and many other newspapers ) ran the names of people arrested in gay bar raids, when police harassed and entrapped gay men, when anti-cross-dressing laws were still on the books in Illinois and when the Mafia owned most gay establishments.
When the newspapers did cover "homosexuals," it was usually as "sick" people ( as diagnosed by many reputable medical societies at the time ) or they were over-the-top entertainers good for a laugh. It wasn't much better for coverage of women's issues, and my mom was forced out of the Tribune in the late 1960s when she dared push to cover harder news, not just puff stories. Few women reporters at the paper made it through the 1960s and into the 1970s, such was the sexism rampant in the newsrooms. It was not any better for people of color. And no serious gay reporter dared be out of the closet.
Things started to change slowly during the 1970s and 1980s, but even then, there were gay letter-writing campaigns or protests outside the Tribune Tower when gays were stereotyped as child molesters, columnist Mike Royko was accused of anti-gay rhetoric, or when the paper was seen as ignoring an important segment of Chicago. There were also pickets at the Sun-Times and broadcast media. As AIDS took hold, including inside the Tribune, the coverage began to change to a more sympathetic, even if stereotypical, approach.
By the late 1980s, the Tribune and Sun-Times both assigned "beat reporters" to cover the gay community part-time. That created more depth in local coverage, but there has always been a limitation of space to cover any one community of Chicago with any significant, ongoing stories. Now, the amount of news and entertainment coming from the LGBT ( lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender ) communities of Chicago is almost impossible to keep on top of, even for news outlets dedicated just to these communities.
To see such a leap forward in the 48 years of my lifetime is almost unimaginable. Other groups working on civil-rights causes have seen their battle take so long that multiple generations working for hundreds of years could not have imagined the end of their rainbow. The LGBT community is lucky: we have benefited greatly from those struggles, and we have actually seen a progress unequalled in its success over just five decades ( give or take ) of significant work.
This progress is absolutely a result of the work for women's rights and the African-American civil-rights movement. There is no doubt that the dots connect back to these struggles. However, the progress is also attributable to something more dark and tragic: AIDS. Because the AIDS crisis devastated a generation of mostly gay men in this country, it forced many people out of the closet and into the streets. There was no time for hiding. Even though many in fact did hide, enough soldiers came out fighting to cause a seismic shift in our county, and in countries around the world.
These soldiers were aided and abetted by lesbians and allies, many who were caregivers as well as activists and leaders of emerging gay and AIDS agencies. Once those closet doors flung open in the late 1980s, there was no pushing us back in. AIDS activists were tutored by women's and civil-rights rights activists, and vice versa. There were national and local protests by ACT UP ( AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power ) and other groups. Hundreds of thousands of people were outraged, and that in turn impacted our politics, culture, art, business, and even our sports.
Now, we are 30 years into the AIDS epidemic, and 40+ years into the modern gay-rights movement. We have seen a tipping point on issues such as same-sex marriage that our Stonewall Riot picketers, and the gay Mattachine Society founders, could only faintly dream could come to reality in even 100 years.
Yet, there are still many battles to wage, and many hurdles to clear. We are recognized as serious contributors to society and as voters with clout, but we pay an unfair "gay tax" because of unequal access to certain benefits and rights. Some of us are still beaten because of perceived difference, the transgender among us are at most risk for a variety of problems ( job discrimination, healthcare access, hate-crimes, etc. ) , and there are still many laws in the U.S. that make us second-class citizens, and even criminals.
As we mark LGBT "Pride" this week, we do have much to celebrate. But our incredible progress, despite the work of so many people who have risked so much, is still tenuous, and short of full equality.
Tracy Baim is publisher and executive editor of Windy City Times. She is the author of Obama and the Gays: A Political Marriage and Leatherman: The Legend of Chuck Renslow. Contact: email@example.com .