The Center on Halsted, in partnership with Equality Illinois and Pride Action Tank, hosted a Black History Month event, "Activism Then & Now," Feb. 21 at the DuSable Museum of African American History.
Several panelists spoke about their own experience as LGBTQ people. The panel was moderated by Dr. Kevin Mumford, professor of history at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Tennessee native Angelina Nordstrom said her native state is the only one in the country prohibiting one from changing the gender on their birth certificate, regardless of the reason.
One can undergo gender confirmation surgery and even change names and genders on passports and social security records, yet there's a statute forbidding residents of that state from correcting their birth certificates.
So throughout her transition, Nordstrom reached out to members of the state's legislature, only to find a lack of movement or support to change that law.
"It caused me ... to feel really discouraged and felt let down in a place where I grew up, in a place where I called home at one point, [that] does not want to create a sense of protection and equality for someone like me, a Black trans woman, a Black two-spirited person of color," Nordstrom said.
So now Nordstrom is doing something about it.
She left Tennessee for Chicago, where she is majoring in human resources, with her sights on law school to eventually become a judge.
"How can someone who knows law use that to protect those who are not part of the majority? For us being minorities, for some of us identifying as feminine or women, we definitely need protections," Nordstrom said. "Something has to change. … If you can't beat the system, you've got to infiltrate it from the inside," she said. "My pronouns are she, her and hers … judge, and your honor"
One summer day when St. Louis-area native Anthony Charles Galloway was 15, he snuck off to the library and came upon a book of stories of gay men. He stole the book ( which he later returned ) for fear of judgment by library staff.
"I remember reading it and reading it and reading it, and my grandmother found it. She acted like she didn't see it," Galloway said.
More than two decades later, Galloway, the director of civic engagement for Equality Illinois, still cites the importance of those stories.
"I remember as a young gay man, what that did for me to be able to learn when no one else was talking about being gay in Belleville, Illinois," he said.
Panelists stressed the importance of LGBTQ stories and anthologies as a means for youth to understand common experiences, create solidarity and inspire change.
Kim L. Hunt, executive director of Pride Action Tank, said documenting such stories is important, regardless of the medium. Events such as Sidetrack's monthly OUTspoken! Storytelling series and written anthologies on the AIDS crisis are important to convey the struggles and challenges of LGBTQ people, she said.
"The importance of documenting our stories is so huge," Hunt said.
Yet sometimes it's difficult to get people to share their stories.
"Trusting us with their stories and trusting us with their ideas to do something, but knowing that wouldn't happen overnight," Hunt said. "There's no words that can take away the suffering that people are going through."
Panelist Beverley Ross, a facilitator at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, was credited for her efforts to share the stories of trans women and help inspire and help others in similar situations.
Ross is also an ambassador for the PrEP 4 Love campaign and has appeared in ads encouraging the use of PrEP.
"Many people in the ballroom scene have been inspired because of people like Beverly, being bold and putting their face out there on bus boards and telling their stories around how difficult it was to transition," Galloway said of Ross.
For Nordstrom, sharing one's story is also important to effect change.
"As time progresses, we're seeing how we are not being believed for our experiences, our narratives are not being heard because no one wants to take heat," Nordstrom said. "As someone who's interested in going into law, we've got to be heard."