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'Out at CHM' event explores current, past activism
by Matt Simonette
2019-06-16

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Chicago History Museum closed the 16th season of its Out at CHM LGBT-focused programming June 13 with "Quiet as a Riot," a discussion of the past and current states of LGBT activism in the city.

Participants included Chicago Human Relations Commission Commissioner Mona Noriega; community activist Precious Brady-Davis; and Legacy Project Executive Director/founder Victor Salvo. Activist and consultant Mary Morten moderated the discussion.

Noriega reflected on her past activism when she was a principal member of the now-disbanded community organization Amigas Latinas, which had to reach a constituency that was at the time largely closeted. She called the group "a really different way of organizing—you had to call people on the phone [and] you had to actually talk to people."

She noted that, while the group focused on same-gender loving women, "If you said you were a 'lesbian' group, you could scare people away."

Both Brady-Davis and Salvo recalled their early times in activism. Brady-Davis, a Nebraska native, said she was inspired largely by a taking an LGBT history course at Columbia College. She started working in social justice, she added, in response to the local Take Back Boystown movement.

Salvo's activism began when he worked on activist Ron Sable's political campaign for Chicago alderman in the early '80s. He also discussed his work in HIV/AIDS activism that decade: "We were battling a plague and society wanted the the plague to win," he recalled.

Each person recalled the impact that gay bars had on them. Salvo described how bar owners—many of whom didn't want a "buzz killed" by becoming involved with HIV/AIDS activism. That gradually changed as the disease took a toll on the community, he noted.

"You could not run a bar without a social conscience," he said.

Noriega added, "Bars were an opportunity to see beyond the constraints of what I was told I could and could not be."

Brady-Davis recalled that bars offered her the chance to become a drag performer: "Everything I was told that I could not be, I found in drag."

Noriega noted that the discussion of bars would not be complete without adding an acknowledgement of the anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando.

"We must remember that we still fall victim to targeting and hate crimes," she said.

The participants also discussed racism within the LGBT community at length. Morten noted that the current discussion, prompted by recent events in Boystown echo discussions she had as part of the organization The Color Triangle years ago. She said many people are surprised that an oppressed group would perpetrate misogynist or racist viewpoints, but, she added, "Those who are oppressed often know how to do it best."

But Brady-Davis optimistically noted that those opposed to the current presidential administration can draw inspiration from the LGBT movement: "Our community has led the way in resistance."

The program ended with performances by entertainers Lucy Stoole and Naysha Lopez.

Related content: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Out-at-CHM-forum-focuses-on-reclaiming-history/65801.html .


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