In 1968, I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, in a masters degree program in international relations. I was new to the city and was living in Hyde Park. I had known, in some way, that I was gay since I was 8 years old, but had not come out yet and had not had any gay experiences other than "fooling around" with a couple of fellow students when I was 13 years old. But I was very ready to come out; in fact, I think I spent more time thinking about that in 1968 than I did studying for my classes.
NOTE: In this special issue devoted to 1968 see personal stories of the year at the links below.
I did not know how to meet gay people. I had never heard of gay bars. There were no gay organizations of any kind that I was aware of. So my first gay experience, in August of 1969, happened because of a roommate ad I saw on the bulletin board in my graduate dormitory. Down below the hand-written ad someone had scrawled, "Watch outthis guy's a fag." I called the guy and we talked; he lived in a building down the block, and he mentioned that there was only one bed in the apartment. I did not visit him then, but I wrote down his phone number and eventually called him back. We met at a coffee shop and talked for awhile before I went to his apartment. He told me that he was the one who wroteon his own ad, in different handwritingthe message "This guy's a fag. "
Another way that guys met in 1968, that I found out about later, was through roommate ads in the Chicago daily newspapers. The ad would not talk about being gay, but any ad about a male looking for a male roommate was suspect.
After I came out in 1969 I heard about bars in Chicago that were either gay bars or were gay bars only at night. Kitty Sheons was a bar in the Rush Street area that supposedly required guys to wear coats and ties. Supposedly there was a bar called Town and Country in one of the hotels downtownI think maybe the Palmer Housethat gays frequented during the cocktail hour, after work. In Hyde Park, Smedlies was supposedly a bar that gay men frequented. The Eagle was a restaurant in Hyde Park that gay men went to; I went there once or twice with a gay friend of mine in 1969, after I had come out.
One bar that I went to in 1970 was in Forest Park called Adrons. Supposedly it was a straight bar during the day but gay at night. I went there several times in the evening and there was nothing "straight" about it. On weekends it got a good sized-crowd. This bar later became Nutbush City Limits. By 1970 there were a fair number of gay bars in Chicago, but Adrons was one that had been around awhile and had this "straight by day but gay at night" thing going.
I also remember that after I had come out in 1969, while still living in Hyde Park, I went to a meeting of a gay consciousness-raising group. These were modeled after similar groups that women held during the Women's Liberation Movement. I remember that it was a small group that had both men and women there. ( One of those men I would meet a few years later, in the Chicago Men's Gathering, and we would remain friends until he finally left Chicago ).
By 1970, I finally found out about the gay bars on the North Side. The first gay bar I went to was the Annex on Clark Street, across and down the block from the Century Theater, which at that time was an old-style movie theaterone big theater, no storesthat showed a different old film every night. I soon moved to the north side, to a studio apartment on Dayton Avenue south of Websterand started going to the barsthe Annex, Shari's ( which had a cute bartender named Pepin Pena, now co-owner of Sidetrack ) and the Gold Coast at 501 N. Clark St. Then one day in 1971, in one of the bars ,was a flyer announcing SCHISM!Chicago Gay Liberation ( which I had never heard of ) was splitting into two groups. One would concentrate on political action and the other was going to rent a house near Division and Wells streets, and was going to be known as the Chicago Gay Alliance ( CGA ). A planning meeting for the CGA was announced, and I went to that meetingand felt at home. I had found what would become and continues to be my community, as a gay man in Chicago, from 1971 to this day in 2018.
View the entire 1968 feature series at these links: