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John D'Emilio lectures on LGBTQ history
by Vern Hester
2017-10-22

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In celebration of LGBTQ History Month, the Center on Halsted presented a lecture and forum Oct. 18 on the history of LGBTQ activism and the rapid development of the national LGBTQ community in the second half of the 20th Century.

The lecture, presented by author, educator and historian John D'Emilio, also included a Q&A segment with Kathy Munzer, a longtime collective member of Mountain Moving Coffeehouse for Womyn and Children, and Tracy Baim, publisher of Windy City Times and the author of several books on LGBTQ history.

Speaking in front of a packed intergenerational audience in the Center's John Baran Hall, D'Emilio spoke on the development of the national and local LGBTQ community encompassing the era of police harassment, gay bar raids, forced outings in newspapers, and the period in the 1940s through the 1960s when homosexuality was considered a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association ( APA ). He also spoke about the emergence of organizations such as the Mattachine Society and the widespread effect of the sexual revolution on feminist and LGBTQ activism.

After the Stonewall Riots in 1969, the LGBTQ community not only established itself through the daring and defiant act of visibility but also experienced a splintering effect which lead to activist groups based not just on sexuality but race and gender, D'Emilio said. He also spoke on the guarded acceptance of the community signaled by the APA changes, and changes in other institutions.

D'Emilio spoke about the start of the AIDS epidemic and how the health crisis, though the death toll has been astronomical, had the effect of galvanizing the community on an historic level. As more closeted individuals came out to support and fight for civil rights, the community grew and welcomed radical activism ( the emergence of ACT UP and Queer Nation ) as well as the self development of organizations such as Howard Brown Health and Test Positive Aware Network.

D'Emilio was joined by Baim and Munzer, and the three fielded questions about Chicago LGBTQ history. Moderator Joanna Thompson asked about the emergence of the gay press and its impact on the community. Baim noted that in the early 1980s there was no internet or social media and that the only way to communicate to a far-reaching community effectively was through a community-based media. Munzer spoke about the importance of creating a multi-racial space to support women's culture.


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