With the Legacy Walk luncheon (featuring keynote speaker Cleve Jones) taking place Oct. 25 at the Palmer House, Windy City Times spoke to members of the inductee selection committee to get their perspectives on LGBT History Month and the project.
The committee members selected 36 inductees out of more than 150 submissions to be the first LGBT people across history to have their biographies featured on the rainbow pylons on Halsted Street in Lakeview. Along with the committee members, Dr. John D'Emilio served as the official historian advisor to the board for the selection process and June LaTrobe and Vernita Gray were consultants on the project.
"I knew going into the process the first time out would require some creative input. I decided the way to ensure a sensitive, thoughtful approach to the selection process that was also academically guided would be to seek out the counsel of both seasoned community activists and LGBT historians from a variety of backgrounds. I am very proud of the group we brought together, a veritable "who's who" of activists with a variety of voices. Together with our historians I feel we have arrived at a spectacular Inaugural Class of Inductees for our 2012 dedication," said Victor Salvo, founder and executive director of the Legacy Project.
Fourteen individuals were chosen for the committee covering the diversity of the LGBT family; C.C. Carter (author), Ann Christophersen (co-founder and co-owner of Women and Children First Bookstore), James Darby (former high school teacher and decorated U.S. Navy veteran of the Korean War), Dr. Kevin Kumashiro (professor of Asian-American studies at the University of Chicago-Illinois), Dr. Lillian Faderman (professor emerita of California State University and noted scholar of lesbian history and literature), Dr. Gabriel Gomez (professor in the school of library science at Chicago State University), Joel Hall (co-founder of the Chicago City Theater Company), Dr. Charles Middleton (president of Roosevelt University), Brother Michael Oboza (Orthodox Catholic Eastern Rite monastic), Dr. Bryant Ragan (professor of history at the Colorado College), Julio Rodriguez (Association of Latino Men for Action board president), Joanne Trapani (investigator with the Cook County Commission on Human Rights), Dr. Lourdes Torres (professor of Latin-American and Latino studies at DePaul University) and Dr. Nancy Unger (associate professor of gay and lesbian history at Santa Clara University).
A number of the selection committee members said how honored and grateful they were to be asked to be a part of this project so the public notices the lives of LGBT people and their societal contributions. Kumashiro and Oboza noted the special effort that was made to bring together a committee that reflected the diversity of all LGBT communities.
Of the Legacy Walk itself, Christophersen said, "Anything that gets the names of LGBT people and their contributions out in the public for people to learn about is a good thing." Darby talked about how the Legacy walk will make LGBT history more public and available to the next generation of kids.
Gomez added, "It's a great idea to turn a simple joyful streetscape element, a rainbow-colored pylon, into a thoughtful and highly visible marker of how LGBT people and events have changed our world." Middleton remarked that it's "such a fitting thing that the Legacy Walk, which will celebrate our outstanding leaders in all walks of life over a long period of time, will be in Boystown, itself uniquely representative of the progress we have made as a community here in Chicago and elsewhere."
"To me the Legacy Walk reminds us that all LGBT histories and herstories are equally of worth," said Oboza. Ragan said, "The Legacy Walk is a pioneering project. Imagine the positive impact it will have on young LGBT people, their families and friends and our fellow citizens."
"One of the things that the LGBT community needs to continue to do is claim our place in history and have our communities contributions known to the world and the Legacy Walk is another critical step in that process," said Rodriguez.
Unger said that learning about these individuals through the Legacy Walk "will be empowering and instructive for those who are still struggling and this project will contribute to that larger history and is important to everyone, not just LGBTQ people."
All committee members had to keep in mind the lasting significance of the nominated individuals and events, the diversity of the individuals chosen along gender, gender identity, racial and ethnic lines as well as making sure that people were chosen from all around the world and across history. Middleton said he "tried to select individuals who lived their lives with courage, conviction and personal integrity ... as a professional historian, this meant I was looking for people and organizations that shaped and defined the times in which they lived not just on our issues but on broader ones as well."
Rodriguez said his choices centered around people who did things for the LGBT community keeping in mind who made him proud to be an openly gay Latino man. "The people who had the widest impact and whose sexual identity seemed especially integral to their achievements" guided Unger's choices. Christophersen noted that it was a difficult task and she was surprised by the people who were LGBT that she didn't know and it was interesting to find out about those people during the selection process. Darby, being a military veteran, focused on military people and people who died before their time wondering what the world would've been like had they lived to an old age.
As for LGBT History Month (October) everyone thought that it's a great way to recognize LGBT people; however, some noted what has yet to be accomplished to gain full equality in American society. Rodriguez said that making LGBT history a larger and integrated part of everyone's history is of great importance, and to not just have a month set aside to honor LGBT people and achievements.
Unger echoed Rogdriguez's statements adding that, by designating a specific month for things like Women's History Month, African-American History Month and LGBT History Month, she worries that "we're effectively ghettoizing these various groups" and making it easy for people to forget or ignore their history the rest of the year. However, she also said that having certain months set aside to honor specific history heightens people's awareness so she wouldn't want to see them abandoned.
For more information on The Legacy Project, visit www.legacyprojectchicago.org/. It's also on Facebook and Twitter.