By: Jackson Lourd

Words by Fabrice Tasendo.

The exhibition "Out in Chicago" explores the city’s LGBT communities against the backdrop of the dynamic forces that shaped Chicago’s development. Out in Chicago is the latest in the Museum’s ongoing series of exhibitions addressing the city’s diverse communities and neighborhoods.

The exhibition chronicles how Chicago’s position as the crossroads of 19th-century America not only created a new kind of industrial city, but also attracted a variety of people and fostered the development of diverse and vibrant communities that challenged gender and sexual norms. "Out in Chicago" explores more than 150 years of urban history, including the period before the terms "lesbian" and "gay" were commonly used.

The art display is organized into four thematic sections that reflect major chronological and historical issues in Chicago’s LGBT past. The first section looks at how Chicago attracted newcomers who resisted gender norms and found a place to live their lives differently. Visitors will hear the stories of non-conformers who struggled with their gender identity as far back as the 1850s. Topics include Chicago’s municipal ordinance against cross-dressing (the earliest in the nation); the Chicago Medical Society’s first lecture on homosexuality in the United States; and clothing portraying a broad range of gender representation in the city. 

Out in chicago 3 The second section documents how LGBT Chicagoans have made homes and formed different kinds of relationships and families, despite being subjected to harassment and discrimination. Topics include single-sex boarding houses at the turn-of-the-twentieth-century; stories of romantic friendships, featuring individuals such as Frances Willard; homeless LGBT youth who migrated to the city in response to rejection by troubled relationships with their families; and Chicago House, a social service agency providing a home for people diagnosed with HIV and AIDS, the first such organization in the country to provide this type of service.

The third section looks at the public life of LGBT communities and how Chicago’s neighborhoods, nightlife, and bars served not only as social spaces but also as political crucibles that helped shape the course of struggles for equal rights. This section includes topics such as the bohemian life epitomized by the Dill Pickle Club in the 1920s; grassroots political efforts in the media and press for LGBT civil rights; bar raids; the leather community in Chicago; and the Gay Games.

 The fourth and final section presents how LGBT people became a political force in shaping their own destiny in Chicago. The exhibition highlights different historical moments in LGBT political activism in Chicago, giving visitors a snapshot of the tensions and conflicts that still exist within the LGBT communities; and how these communities are recognized and celebrated today as a vital part of the diverse urban fabric of Chicago. The events or movements include the founding of the Society for Human Rights in Chicago in1924; lesbian attorney Pearl Hart’s fight for the rights of marginalized people and the police department’s Red Squad surveillance of her; the radicalism of the LGBT movement in the 1960s and 1970s and the beginning of the Pride Parade; the evolution of Latina lesbian activism from the 1980s to the present; history of healthcare and AIDS activism; and the development of transgender activism in Chicago.

Out in chicago 2 The conversation continues outside the Museum’s walls through an "Out in Chicago" Facebook page. “We invite visitors to start dialogues or share memories inspired by the four primary sections relating their place and sense of self, families, communities, social worlds, and, of course, politics,” said Jill Austin, co-curator. “We hope that many conversations initiated in the gallery can be shared and continued online.”

The Museum has a year-long schedule of programs, tours, and events that further explore these communities.  An opening preview reception on Friday, May 20, gives the opportunity for guests to view the exhibition for the first time. On Saturday, May 21, the exhibition officially opens to the public, and the Museum is celebrating with live music and an array of performances from popular LGBT performing groups.  A full listing of opening day performers can be found on the Museum’s website.

"Out in Chicago" will be on exhibition May 21, 2011 through March 26, 2012.