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Based on 2010 Census numbers, Chicago has the third largest urban LGBT population in the United States, after New York and Los Angeles respectively. The land that we know today as Chicago has had an LGBT presence since the seventeenth century. In spite of that, no one has published a history of LGBT life in Chicago until today. Chicago gay press writer St. Sukie de la Croix wrote Chicago Whispers: A History of LGBT Chicago Before Stonewall (University of Wisconsin Press) to fill that empty space on the shelf.
An internationally published journalist, de la Croix moved to the United States from Great Britain in 1991 to become a columnist, editor, and reporter for gay Chicago publications such as Windy City Times, Outlines, Clout, Blacklines, En La Vida, Nightlines, Nightspots, Chicago Free Press and Gay Chicago. The title of his book Chicago Whispers comes from the LGBT history column that he wrote for six years In Outlines and continued in the Windy City Times. De la Croix’s column about Chicago’s gay history landed him a job as a tour guide on the Chicago Neighborhood Tours gay history bus. He also had the honor of writing a 10-week series on Chicago’s LGBT history for the Chicago Tribune. Many people identify de la Croix as a historian, but he firmly insists on his journalist identity due to the nature of LGBT history research. According to an interview with de la Croix,
Historians have a set way of doing things, an academic clarity. There are rules to follow, whereas a journalist will sell his own grandmother to get to the bottom of a story…Gay history is so hidden and buried, that it sometimes requires intensive detective work…However, in the end, if the book is to be of any use to students, all the information has to be sourced, and I’m very proud of my bibliography.
While de la Croix may be proud of his bibliography, he could not have written Chicago Whispers without interviewing hundreds of LGBT Chicagoans for primary source material. While many of the subjects have had their names changed, or remain anonymous, de la Croix includes their personal stories to support the historical narrative.
In addition to de la Croix’s well-researched chapters, Chicago Whispers includes a foreword by University of Illinois at Chicago LGBT history professor John D’Emilio. D’Emilio honors Chicago Whispers by comparing it to Jonathan Ned Katz’s groundbreaking American LGBT history classic Gay American History. He states that de la Croix “chooses to stay very close to his sources…[and] also displays great respect for the documents. As much as his materials permit, he has them speak to us directly.”
De la Croix addresses the wide spectrum of pre-Stonewall lesbian, gay, and transgender cultures in Chicago. He follows Katz’s tradition of writing thematic chapters instead of chronological ones. This strategy allows a reader to pick up wherever they wish. At the same time, a reader who takes a concrete sequential approach to history may get a shock when time fast forwards two hundred and fifty years, without transition, between the first and second chapters. In spite of the bumps, it is extremely difficult to put this book down. De la Croix breathes life into a history that deserves national recognition. Take heed, New Yorkers and Angelenos, of some surprising facts about LGBT Chicago:
De la Croix ends Chicago Whispers with the establishment of Gay Liberation Front in 1969…”But that’s another story,” he writes in closing. To be continued, armchair LGBT historians…de la Croix has a sequel to Chicago Whispers being reviewed by his publisher as we speak.
Shapiro, G. (2012, June 1). “From a ‘Whisper’ to a Scream: An Interview with St. Sukie de la Croix.” Baltimore Outloud.
Chicago Whispers: A History of LGBT Chicago Before Stonewall
St. Sukie de la Croix
University of Wisconsin Press
Paperback, 978029928694, 332 pp.