Dozens of community members gathered along Halsted Street the afternoon of Oct. 13 for the unveiling of two new Legacy Walk plaques celebrating the lives of activist Marsha P. Johnson and composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
The afternoon was a somewhat bittersweet one for Legacy Walk Executive Director Victor Salvo, as the new installations now occupy the final two spots along the Legacy Walk, essentially completing the initial goal of an open-air museum along Halsted Street celebrating the LGBT community.
The first plaques were unveiled in 2012.
"This is the fulfillment of a dream that began 31 years ago," said Salvo. He said that he was struck by the contrasting lives of Johnson and Tchaikovsky, noting that Johnson, a prominent figure in the 1969 Stonewall riots, "did much to be buoyant and joyful," while Tchaikovsky's days were marked by solemnity.
Brave Space Alliance Executive Director LaSaia Wade helped Salvo to unveil Johnson's plaque; community organizer Xavier MaatRa also delivered remarks on Johnson.
Tchaikovsky's plaque was unveiled by Alexander Mars, a Russian gay man who sought asylum in the United States. In his remarks, he described the dire circumstances facing LGBT Russians: "The homophobic Russian government is trying to control information about LGBT people, and keep us in the dark."
Ravinia Festival Welz Kauffman, state Sen. Heather Steans and her twin sister, Ravinia Festival Board Chair Jennifer Steans, also spoke at the Tchaikovsky unveiling. Kauffman recalled that hearing about Tchaikovsky being gay inspired him to come out to his mother.
State Sen. Steans mentioned that the Legacy Walk spoke to the need for making LGBT history part of the history curriculum in the state. She introduced a bill which passed in the Illinois Senate that would do just that in 2018; the legislation has yet to come up for a vote in the Illinois House.