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Event brings bar community 'Out of the Bars and Into the Streets'
Video below
by Kirk Williamson
2016-11-07

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Chicago Votes and Organized Grime combined forces Nov. 5 to encourage the Windy City's LGBTQ nightlife community to join together and make their individual and combined voices heard and to get "Out of the Bars and Into the Streets."

The gathering and march, which Chicago Votes' Derek Bagley spearheaded, was an effort to harness the crackling energy of the local queer bar scene and to channel it directly into the voting booth to make a statement about the power of community to effect change.

The event kicked off at noon at Replay, 3439 N. Halsted St., in Lake View's Boystown neighborhood. The atypically warm and sunny November weather mirrored the enthusiasm of the spectrum of attendees, featuring nightlife ambassadors and performers, flag-draped bisexual warriors, spiked-heel wearing leather-clad veterans, and everyone in between.

At 1 p.m., Bagley and fellow Chicago Votes activist, field and outreach manager Nicole Johnson spurred the bar patrons to join them outside to begin the march, all with the aid of a couple of bullhorns, amplifying the influential words of Replay's own hostess, Debbie Fox and Organized Grime's Ryan Willing. Bagley and Johnson offered some inspirational words to the crowd of about 50 supporters and then stepped off southward down Halsted Street, bullhorns aloft. As the colorful contingent proceeded to the polling place, the Merlo Branch Public Library at 644 W. Belmont Ave., rallying slogans included, "We're here, we're queer, we're voting;" "Out of the bar and into the streets;" and, at one very specific stretch of the parade route, "Out of Steamworks and into the streets."

Bagley took inspiration, as well as the title of the event itself, from a line in the Harvey Milk biopic Milk. "After doing a little research about how they organized the Castro in the '70s around Harvey Milk's election," Bagley continued, "the idea is that our bars and our clubs are our sanctuaries. We go into them and we commune in these spaces, almost like a church, but that's where we almost isolate ourselves. We have to get out of the bar and into the streets because our community has a history of marching, getting angry in the streets, making our presence known and if we are only in the confines of our sacred spaces, our visibility declines."

Asked about his role with Chicago Votes, which describes itself, according to its website, as "a non-partisan, non-profit organization building a more inclusive democracy by putting power in the hands of young Chicagoans," development director Bagley replied, "I was given an opportunity here, this year, to do some organizing in my own community. What's really nice about Chicago Votes is that it allows us to have opportunities beyond what our job descriptions are and really get into the meat of issues that we're passionate about. And so for me, it was queer organizing and I'm honored to be a part of this event today."

As Chicago Votes focuses primarily on young voters, Bagley opined on the topic of youth engagement in the current election. "I think that it's pretty united that we have to do it," offered Bagley, "but the issues is, I think, especially among the younger generation ... that there's sort of an apathetic viewpoint to it. It's like, 'Oh, I'll get to it when I can,' or, 'I'll just come out and party,' and these sorts of things. I think that the whole idea of this event itself is to mix our party life, our club life, our church life, with that of civic activism and action and that's really what I've seen."

Johnson also weighed in on the topic of millennial engagement and expanded on the mission of Chicago Votes. "We have parades at different high schools, different community colleges throughout the city. We're on the South Side, we're on the West Side, we're at White College, we're at Hyde Park, we're at Lindblom, we're at Harper. So we get the kids riled up and pumped to go to the polls and we discuss the issues and we share with them the voter guides and then we go parade to the poll, literally."

As the parade members finally reached the polling location, they joined the already extensive line and waited for their turns to be heard. Among the many participating voices in the crowd was Andrew Levi Belford, a U.S. Navy veteran and a queer leatherman. "I believe it's everybody's right to vote," Belford said. "I fought for this country, people have died for this country and ... you need to get out and let your voice be heard. ... It's your God-given right and it's a right that I have fought to protect for you. So make sure you get out and vote, if not for me, then for the people that have come before you."

Pekky Marquez, aka The Bi Princess, gave a unique perspective: "I've been in this country for 18 years, I've been a Green Card holder for only two and I still cannot vote. That's why I tell American citizens, 'Don't take this right for granted. Go vote. You don't know what can be in your hands. It's very important to vote; you can effect the change. And I'm here to support you, to be behind you as an American resident who aspires to be a citizen and help you to fight for your process.'"

Performer Kat Sass added, "I feel absolutely privileged and delighted to be here to exercise my right to vote and to work with Chicago Votes and, as a member of the gay community, I feel like we need to have our voices heard and that everyone needs to be active and activated."

"I came today for my friend Drew Leinonen and his partner, Juan Ramon Guerrero, who were killed at Pulse," said paradegoer Ezra Meadors in a tribute to his departed loved ones.

Perhaps the most succinct statement was offered by Andrew Kain Miller, who simply asserted, "We represent everything they are scared of—and we vote."





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