Legacy Project brings history to Halsted

Fri. October 12, 2012 7:37 AM by Matt Simonette

legacy walk launches on halsted street

photo credit // matt simonette
Chicago, IL - "America the Beautiful" was a befitting opening to the dedication ceremony inaugurating Chicago's Legacy Walk on Halsted Street October 11.

"Please stand for what has come to be known as the gay national anthem," said Legacy Walk Board Vice-Chairperson Laura Angelucci to community members who'd gathered in a tent erected at the corner of Roscoe and Halsted.

Katherine Lee Bates, who wrote "America the Beautiful," was in a longtime relationship with another woman. Some writers had been reluctant to say Bates was a lesbian, insisting that her 25-year relationship with Katherine Coman was a platonic "Boston marriage" instead. She was nominated to be included on the Legacy Walk, but not yet inducted.

Organizers of the Legacy Walk emphasized that the installation fills in the gaps that conventional history books have left out.

Before now, LGBT history "was dismissed," said Ralph Kennedy, Legacy Project's board chair. "It was ignored. It was not spoken about."

"This is here to permanently record the history of these people," he added.

State Rep. Greg Harris (D-13) remembered how former Mayor Richard M. Daley would frequently comment on how Chicago's neighborhoods often came to be defined by the cultures of their residents. As time passed, those neighborhoods built foundations and museums documenting the contributions those communities have made to the city.

"Today, the LGBT community should be proud," Harris said. "We are joining these legions of folks who have come before us."

Ald. Tom Tunney (44) expressed relief in that he usually experiences little resistence from the city council or the Office of the Mayor in most matters relating to the LGBT community. "Mayors Daley and Emanuel have been there for this community," he said.

But he acknowledged that, even as Oct. 11 marked the 25th National Coming Out Day, many people, for whatever reason, still could not come out. "There are still closeted individuals in our city," Tunney said. "I still get phone calls at my office from time to time, thanking me for being out."

Victor Salvo, Legacy Walk's creator and executive director deliver the keynote address. After visiting the AIDS Memorial Quilt for the first time in 1987, Salvo became preoccupied with learning about the history of the LGBT community, and making that history more visible.

"This is about being in service to something larger and greater than oneself," Salvo said.

He added that Legacy Project's companion educational initiative would hopefully extend its reach far beyond the borders of Boystown. Created in conjunction with Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, the initiative will provide online information and comprehensive lesson plans to schools and students.

"It will bring knowledge of the Legacy Project to those who need it most," Salvo said.

The ceremony closed with the dedication of Sgt. Leonard Matlovich's plaque. Members of American Veterans for Equal Rights served as Color Guard, while members of Lakeside Pride Freedom Band sounded "Taps."

Among the LGBTs currently honored on the Legacy Walk, besides Matlovich, are Oscar Wilde, Antonia Pantoja, Alvin Ailey, Barbara Gittings, Reinaldo Arenas, Alan Turing, Christine Jorgenson, Alfred Kinsey, Bayard Rustin, Keith Haring, Margaret Chung, Harvey Milk, Barbara Jordan, Frida Kahlo, Jane Addams, James Baldwin and Two Spirit (Native American and Canadian First Nation LGBT) people.

More inductees will be named in Spring 2013 for induction on National Coming Out Day next fall, said historian and author Owen Keehnen, Legacy Project's board secretary.

"We have an unending reservoir of people to draw from," said Keehnen.

Photos: Legacy Walk dedication in Lakeview

Related: Watch video coverage from the Gay Report