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OUTspoken! marks two years of community stories
by Matt Simonette

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About 150 participants have, since 2014, taken to the stage at Sidetrack for OUTspoken!, the monthly storytelling program for members of the LGBT community, according to its co-emcee Kim Hunt.

August marked the two-year anniversary of OUTspoken! Hunt, who is executive director of Pride Action Tank, reflected on its significance in her opening remarks at the August 2 installment.

"They have shared with us not only their personal stories, but we have also heard LGBTQ history that you will not find in any history book anywhere in the United States," she said. "We have heard some amazing tales from individuals, and we've heard just how normal LGBTQ people are."

Sidetrack co-owner and co-emcee Art Johnston added that Hunt's "normal" remark shouldn't be construed as an insult: "Sometimes it's okay to be normal," he joked.

Writer and scholar M. Shelly Conner told about her visit to a friend in South Carolina, which resulted in an outrageous evening at a gentlemen's club—complete with buffet. Librarian Erin Marshall described how her pregnancy coincided with unwelcome attention that a much-younger friend began showering on her partner.

Four other storytellers used their recollections to address how society's perceptions of the LGBT community have evolved over the decades. Ella Nelson, a trans student at Von Steuben Metropolitan Science High School spoke about the fateful day she decided to come out as trans to her classmates. Most were supportive, and many were eager to create and give an award to Nelson for her courage; but each of their proposed names for the award was more awful than the next.

Realtor Brad Lippitz also told a school related-story, first describing how becoming was "the Bar Mitzvah Dance King of Glencoe" during his middle school years helped build his confidence, then relating how, attending a bar mitzvah recently, he saw an openly gay student ask a popular—and straight—boy to dance.

Hadeis Safi, who works in HIV prevention, presented two contrasting coming-out stories about his family, relating first how his father threatened him when his parents realized he was gay, then, years later, was quietly accepting when they found out Safi was HIV-positive.

Finally, Johnston recalled when he accidently stepped into the planning of, and fundraising for, transportation to a gay-rights demonstration in the 1980s, work that would ultimately lay the foundation for his co-founding of Illinois Federation for Equal Rights, now Equality Illinois.

OUTspoken! takes place the first Tuesday of every month. It is the brainchild of David Fink of Three Oaks, Michigan-based Acorn Theatre, who curates the program each month, as well as Johnston. Sidetrack's Brad Balof is the stage manager.

Shortly before the intermission, Hunt marveled that Nelson, a high school student, felt empowered enough to take to the stage that night.

"Reflect on the fact that we had a high school sophomore who shared her story with us here tonight, and that's what OUTspoken! is all about," said Hunt. She then turned to Nelson and said, "We're doing this for you."

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