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If a book can be compared to culinary fare, Tracy Baim’s Out and Proud in Chicago is a grand buffet. Some of the articles are mere snippets, amuse busche for the historically minded. Others are comprehensive historical courses that cover major trends and institutions. But while the dozens of articles and profiles in this book can be enjoyed individually–and I highly recommend biting off digestible chunks to be devoured at leisure–the reader should start at the beginning and work his or her way to the end in order to feel the full scale of Baim’s endeavor.
The volume is laid out chronologically, beginning with “Prairie Settlement to 1949” and covering each decade, until the 2000s. When read in this order, the articles provide a nuanced context, helping us to understand the person, place, or event in its social and temporal milieu.
One of the core articles, by John D. Poling, does an exemplary job of covering the history of the nascent Chicago movement, starting with Henry Gerber’s Society for Human Rights which was incorporated in 1924. Gerber, an immigrant veteran of World War I, modeled his organization after one existing in his German homeland. His Society was destroyed in July of 1925 when his goals were discovered by the Illinois state authorities, and he lost his job as a postal worker. Though Gerber’s Society was never revived, word of its existence spread to Los Angeles, where Harry Hay heard of it through one of his lovers. Inspired, Hay and four associates formed a clandestine origination called Mattachine, which by 1952 had 2,000 members. Chicago’s first Mattachine failed in 1957 due to lack of members, but it revived shortly in 1960–to again fail within two years. In 1965, however, a third Mattachine emerged, Mattachine Midwest [MM], formed by Ira Jones, attorney Pearl M. Hart, and Robert Baker. The goals of this organizing resonated with a larger number of homosexual people: “to improve the ‘legal, social and economic status of the homosexual’.”
From the start, MM met with enthusiasm and zeal. Like the two former Mattachines, MM founders formed a newsletter, and their Mattachine Midwest Newsletter soon rivaled if not surpassed ONE Magazine in readership. In the tradition of the other homophile organizations, they organized and hosted national conferences and events, created a lending library, staffed a telephone help line, and engaged the Chicago media by forming a speaker’s bureau that arranged news conferences and guest appearances on the radio and television.
Every American metropolis has its own Stonewall-like rebellion. For Chicago, Marie Kuda tells us, the equivalent was when police stormed The Trip bar on East Ohio Street in January of 1968 and again the following May. As in other cities, the police regularly harassed gay bar goers, often publishing the names, addresses, and employers of those taken into custody. A bar that decided to appeal an order to revoke a liquor license was automatically closed during the appeal process–which was the case with The Trip, which was closed for the duration of 1968, though the facility continued to host movement events, such as the famous NACHO meeting where Frank Kameny suggested “Gay is Good” be the movement’s official slogan. It is important for today’s LGBT youth in particular to know this history–to realize that as recent as 1970, bar goers and owners were regularly harassed by the police, and even in progressive cities as Chicago, one could be arrested at this time for simply dancing with a person of the same sex. Police, government, and medical professionals regularly referred to homosexuals as “fags” and “queers,” and when acknowledged by the media, gays were called “deviates,” clearly “disturbed” and maladjusted individuals. Our gains since 1970 have been significant–and they could be reversed.
But young people should also know that they, too, have a place in this history. In “Let’s Dance,” John D’Emilio points out that the first Gay Liberation group in Chicago included many Universtiy of Chicago students. The first known same-sex dance (or “mixer”) was held on campus in January of 1970. A second, held a month later in a campus dorm, attracted 600 revelers from all across the city. Emboldened, Chicago Gay Liberation rented the Coliseum and drew 2,000 same-sex dancers on April 18. After this, gay and lesbian bar owners were pressured to let men dance with men and women with women. “For queer Chicagoans,” D’Emilio writes, “dancing had come to stay.”
Another strength of this book is its personal profiles of core activists. Over 40 of the articles are dedicated to a person or couple who were crucial to the Chicago movement, such people as attorneys Bill Kelly, Pearl M. Hart, and Renee Hangover; organizers such as Chuck Renslow; academic activists such as Marie Jayne Kuda; playwrights Claudia Allen and Nick Patricca, and many others.
My criticisms of this book are few but significant. In her article, “The Revolution…Will Be Reported On,” Baim says that after Gerber published Friendship and Freedom in the 1920s (no surviving issues of this publication are known to exist), the “next big media venture” in the United States was the publication of the Mattachine Midwest Newsletter in the 1960s. Surely Baim had heard of ONE Magazine, The Ladder, and Mattachine Review? To present Chicago as an isolate is erroneous. Though Baim does mention how Chicago activists came to the aid of California during the Briggs Initiative and held benefits for the victims of the fire in New Orleans’s Upstairs Lounge, I would have liked to have read even more about how Chicago affected–and was affected by–movements in other cities such as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington.
Even with this minor fallacy, we must conclude that this book is a triumph on many levels. We all should know of Toby Schneiter and Nancy Davis, who were arrested for demanding the right to marry at the Cook County Marriage License Bureau in the fall of 1975–and understand why many Chicago activists felt betrayed by their protest. All of us can be emboldened to learn of the Anita Bryant protest at the Medinah Temple in June of 1977, and sadly, Baim’s article “AIDS: The Plague Years” provides ample evidence of the devastation wrought during and after the decade of death. Yet the 1980s ended in triumph when, after several failed attempts, a Human Rights Ordinance was passed by the city council that secured employment and housing rights for gay and lesbian people.
While this is a significant achievment for LGBT journalism, its use for scholarship suffers for want of a thorough and comprehensive index. This is more than made up for by the quality of the volume and the stunning, full-color photographs and images of a not-so-bygone age. A treasure trove of information and a bargain for the price, the book is further complimented with a companion website, at ChicagoGayHistory.org. I hope that journalist historians in other progressive cities–such as Seattle, Miami, Boston, and my own Rochester, New York–will be inspired to produce and publish similar such volumes so that our collective history will continue to be created, recorded, digested, and admired.
Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City’s Gay Community
Edited by Tracy Baim
Agate Surrey Books / $30.00
Hardcover, 224 pages