The Legacy LIVE Series for 2017 kicked off on Feb. 5 at the Alphawood Gallery with a screening of the rarely seen, award-winning 1990 documentary Short Fuse: Story of an AIDS Activist.
The hour-long documentary, which originally aired on PBS, explores the fiery, funny, passionate life of Daniel Sotomayor, the nation's first openly gay political cartoonist and ACT-UP/Chicago AIDS activist. The documentary follows Daniel's struggle to balance life, death, and protest cast against some of the most explosive footage of AIDS activism ever captured in Chicago. Often very funnyand gut-wrenchingly sadthe presentation captured the reality of AIDS both as a health crisis and as a political and social catalyst.
The presentation was followed by an extensive 90-minute Q&A with four of Sotomayor's closest friends, comrades and, in the end, caregivers. LGBTQ activists Lori Cannon, Tim Miller, Owen Keehnen and Victor Salvo discussed various aspects of Sotomayor's personality and his motivations, the role of Act-UP, the lessons learned from that time, the strategic alliances that were formed, the political changes that were wroughtall emanating from a movement that for a period seemed to spiral out from Sotomayor himself.
More than 70 people crowded the gallery's screening space to experience what was, in effect, a memorial for Sotomayor, who had passed away from AIDS 25 years ago, on Feb. 5, 1992. The event brought out numerous activists to share their recollections and mix with emerging activists who are seeking inspiration for tackling the new challenges ahead both for the LGBTQ community and all the other communities of which we are a part.
Among the notables in the audience sharing their unique perspectives of that time were former 46th Ward Ald. Helen Shiller, whose work on the advancement of legislation to expand the City of Chicago's AIDS budget was driven by her close friendship with Sotomayor; and activist Joanne Trapani, former mayor of Oak Park, who worked closely with Sotomayor on strategies to confront and confound Mayor Daley. Along with comments from activists like Bill Greaves, Richard Knight Jr., Malone Sizelove and several others, the gathering in Sotomayor's honor offered an extraordinary glimpse into the mindset and mechanics of protest and effective cross-platform engagement with people from a variety of backgrounds.
The program was conceived and produced with the assistance of the Alphawood Gallery, where the Art AIDS America/Chicago Exhibit currently features several of Sotomayor's original artworks and cartoons. Legacy LIVE is a joint venture of the Legacy Project and Center on Halsted.