OUTspoken takes LGBTQ+ stories to the suburbs

Mon. April 8, 2024 11:14 AM by Ross Forman

outspoken in the western suburbs

photo credit // provided

OUTspoken in Woodridge, Tuesday, April 9 at 7:30 p.m.

When OUTspoken was first held in suburban Downers Grove in 2018, it was to be a one-time event to benefit Youth Outlook, a nonprofit that provides support and services for young LGBTQ.

But with limited similar events for the LGBTQ community in the western suburbs, organizers elected to come back a few times a year.

“We had OUTspoken at a couple different venues to begin with, especially before the pandemic and they were really well attended,” Archy Jamjun, Curator at OUTspoken LGBTQ Stories. “We settled at Skeleton Key Brewery because I had worked with the owners Paul and Emily Slayton and they have always been so accommodating, enthusiastic and supportive.

“I think it’s harder for people to be out and open in the western suburbs and the safe space that OUTspoken creates for people to tell their story is really unique and needed out there.”

Next up: April 9, starting at 7:30 p.m.

OUTspoken in Woodridge is a bit more relaxed than the monthly event held at Sidetrack in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood on the first Tuesday of each month. “It feels like most of the room knows each other; there’s always a few new faces to welcome and also we can have people under (age) 21 attend,” Jamjun said. The suburban event is hosted by Ken Mejia Beal and the storytellers are people from Youth Outlook this month. “We have a few veteran tellers who work for Youth Outlook, plus a couple of young people who have used their services,” Jamjun said.

“I wouldn’t compare importance (between OUTspoken in the suburbs and the city) because Sidetrack has brought so many stories to the stage and set the bar really for creating the best audience and this magical aura where people feel supported enough to be vulnerable. But I think for the LGBTQ+ community out in the suburbs, having OUTspoken, stands out. It’s really there. I feel so free to promote OUTspoken in the city. I never think about it. But there have been times when I’ve promoted OUTspoken in Downers Grove and have received hate comments. It wasn’t really like that when it started, but over the past few years it sometimes feels like we’re having a semi-secret event.”

Jamjun said the audience in the suburbs for OUTspoken is not as diverse racially.

“Most of the highlights I can think of (from OUTspoken in the suburbs) are the young people sharing their stories or having young audience members reacting to stories. We don’t get a chance for teen tellers at Sidetrack and it’s great to hear what they have to say.

OUTspoken celebrates its 10-year anniversary in August.

“I am so grateful for our audience and I can’t believe we’re not only still going but finding new audience members and first-time tellers,” said Jamjun, 44, who lives in the South Loop. “It’s also amazing to hear how some themes never go away while at the same time you hear how the LGBTQ experience has changed over the 10 years we’ve been on.

“I don’t think (OUTspoken overall) has changed too much. The format is the same. I probably have learned how to run a better show over the years. We do have Anna DeShawn as our host when Kim Hunt departed, but she still comes to tell a story every year, so it still feels like she is part of the family. We have Jennifer Ould on our team now, too. The last six months or so have been particularly amazing because it feels like a lot younger people have heard about us and it’s great seeing the mix of familiar and new faces.”

Jamjun added: “As long as there are people who are telling for the first time, it keeps the show fresh and brings in new people.”

Jamjun said his wish-list of future storytellers includes some Chicago drag queens, along with a return story from David Cerda.

“I want to give a shout-out to some who have been there for OUTspoken when we needed last minutes subs, such as RC Riley, Joe Mellen, Timothy Rey, Maria Kostas and Sonal Aggarwal,” Jamjun said. “I have too many favorite stories to list. Some of my favorite stories come from people who aren’t necessarily interested in pursuing storytelling but have this one story they really want to tell. Working with them is really rewarding.

“OUTspoken has been one of the best experiences of my life and it gives me such a great sense of community. I’m proud of the show and the experiences our team has been able to create.”