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Gerber/Hart benefit brings awareness of Midwest LGBTQ history
by Melissa Wasserman
2019-09-22

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Gerber/Hart Library and Archives is an open book when it comes to Midwest LGBTQ history and culture—and its benefit, "Out of the Closets and Into the Archives," proved it Sept. 21 at its space on 6500 N. Clark St.

The annual event spread across the whole second floor of Howard Brown Health Center ( Gerber/Hart takes residence in part of the second floor ) and welcomed attendees to join in an evening of exploring visual pieces, socializing, food and drinks.

Having it in this space, Gerber/Hart Director Wil Brant said, was intentional so people can see the exhibit "Out of the Closets & into the Streets: Power, Pride & Resistance in Chicago's Gay Liberation Movement" and the library, getting an up-close look at what the organization does.

"It's a combination of both looking back on what we've accomplished and looking forward to what we can do," said Brant of the Gerber/Hart's major fundraiser. "We've been on this very interesting and good progress in terms of where Gerber/Hart was three or four years ago and where we're at today; just this continually growth, expansion of programs, expansion of volunteers, expansion of a lot of different things in ways we wouldn't have even thought of."

Attendees also participated in a silent auction and were able to hear from John D'Emilio, Gerber/Hart's president of board of directors, about the organization's past and future doings.

Along with the current exhibit and the library, which holds a wide range of books, there were historic posters on display dating back to the '60s and spanning through the years, as well as a few drag costumes.

"The event was very successful," D'Emilio ( who also briefly celebrated his birthday at the event ) told Windy City Times. "We had a good turnout. People seem to be enjoying themselves. As I walked around in the course of the evening, I noticed the way people were really stopping to look at the exhibit and to look at some of the things that we had put out to get a sense of what we have here and why this is exciting and I'm always impressed."

Through his time previously teaching LGBTQ history at a university and his current time with Gerber/Hart, D'Emilio said he continues to "be amazed at how gripping history is for us."

He added that one thing that has been going well for Gerber/Hart is instead of hoping for people to come in and people stumbling upon the organization, there has been more programmatical outreach to attract people.

"When we think about our future increasingly, we think about the ways we can put our history online, on the web, so that it's not contained only within a physical space," D'Emilio explained of the library and archives additionally expanding to have an online presence for a broader audience to see.

"I feel like what's been really great seeing over the last five years is how many younger people are coming into Gerber/Hart and finding out more about their history," said Jen Dentel, the library-archives' programming and communications coordinator and co-curator for its next exhibit "Lavender Women & Killer Dykes." "I think that having more of a presence online will make our space more accessible. I think the Instagram has been really fun to run as a volunteer, but I think now that I'm part time staff, I'll have more time to [expand] it."

The new exhibit—which will open Saturday, Oct. 12—was a topic covered during the event of things to come. "Lavender Women & Killer Dykes" will focus on both LGBTQ and women's community spaces in the 1970s and 1980s ( with a touch of stuff from the '60s, according to Dentel ).

Dentel described the exhibit will bring to light lesser known publishing, musical, political and health groups mainly within Chicago.

"I think what we're hoping is that people who lived through that movement will see themselves represented in a way that they can relate to and that younger people can find an aspect of history they weren't aware of that occurred during this time period," said Dentel. "So, I think realizing the strength of women in this movement and how many different areas they had so much power over, is really incredible."

To learn more about Gerber/Hart Library and Archives, visit GerberHart.org .


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