Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Vice Mayor Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) were present at the groundbreaking of the AIDS Garden Chicago on the lakefront at Belmont Ave.
“AIDS Garden Chicago will be the city's first public monument to memorialize the early days of Chicago's HIV epidemic, and honor those who continue to fight against the disease today,” says the Chicago Parks Foundation and the Chicago Park District—both sponsors of the project.
Lightfoot and Tunney, both openly gay, joined Reps. Mike Quigley (D-IL 5th district) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL 9th district), and legislators state Rep. Greg Harris (D-13th district) and state Sen. Sara Feigenholtz (D-6th district), as well as other LGBT civic leaders for the ceremony—marking a kickoff for Pride month.
Quigley, a longtime LGBT ally, is vice chairman of the LGBT Equality Caucus and founding member of the Transgender Equality Task Force in Congress.
Rep. Harris is considered a trailblazer in the Illinois House as openly gay and openly HIV-positive—a status that was stigmatized during and after the initial HIV/AIDS outbreak.
AIDS Garden Chicago will be completed later this year on 2.5 acres adjacent to Belmont Harbor. It sits on what once was called 'Belmont Rocks'—an historic gay gathering place.
The site was victim to a shoreline anti-erosion project in 2003.
“The Rocks themselves may be gone, but this portion of the Chicago shoreline will forever remain a place of celebration, joy, and remembrance in the pre-AIDS era and throughout the darkest days of the epidemic,” local historian Owen Keehnen shared regarding the project.
A 30-foot sculpture by Keith Haring, called 'Self Portrait,' had been on the site since 2019. It is the only Haring piece of its size.
“Self Portrait's new home at AIDS Garden Chicago is a small but powerful way to continue talking about the epidemic as we fight to bring both HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths to zero,” Tunney said when the piece was installed.
AIDS Garden Chicago will feature manicured an entrance made of boulders leading to manicured gardens with carefully curated flowers, flowering shrubs and trees.
There will be an education walk that will highlight “important moments in Chicago's fight against the epidemic.”
The estate will showcase a healing garden—a venue for future events. A reflection court under a gingko grove will be a place to find comfort and peace despite the tragedy of HIV/AIDS.
The largest feature will be an oval-shaped greens.
“With the sculpture as the focal point, the oval walk has colored concrete bands in the pattern of sun-rays,” the city says. “The pattern is continued into the lawn area where strategically located boulders bring back the memories of the Belmont Rocks.”