Monthly LGBTQ storytelling at Sidetrack celebrates two years on Aug. 2

Sat. July 30, 2016 1:33 PM by Ross Forman

outspoken! at sidetrack

photo credit // sidetrack

Six share a story at OUTSpoken! including Art Johnston and Brad Lippitz, among others

Chicago, IL - Chicago's monthly evening of LGBTQ storytelling – known as OUTspoken! and held the first Tuesday of every month at Sidetrack – celebrates its two-year anniversary when six speakers take their turn with the microphone at the popular Boystown bar on Tuesday Aug. 2. Doors open at 6 p.m., and the stories run from 7-9 p.m.

There is no charge to attend, but audience members must be 21 with ID.

"OUTspoken! allows audiences to get an intimate glimpse of people they may or may not interact with on a daily basis," said Sidetrack general manager Brad Balof. "Creating a diverse line-up of speakers allows for a dynamic evening of storytelling (and) audiences frequently realize that we are all not that different from each other."

OUTspoken! launched on Aug. 5, 2014, and the first round of speakers was Patrick Gill, Kim L Hunt, Jim Bennett, Katie Prout, Kareem Khubchandani, and Tracy Baim. "There was a great energy (at the inaugural OUTspoken!), like the audience knew that this event was something special," said David Fink, who is the co-founder of Acorn Theater in Three Oaks, Mich., and serves as the curator for OUTspoken!

The event is emceed by Kim L. Hunt, the executive director of Pride Action Tank; and Sidetrack co-owner Art Johnston.

Fink, Hunt and Johnston were the original organizers for OUTspoken! and Balof said that, over the past two years, the event has "remained true to (their) vision." In fact, Johnston said the stories, storytellers and audiences "are better that we could have hoped for."

Johnston added, "We have a great idea; a strong, dedicated team executing; and a diverse audience drawn from all parts of our community participating. The event continues to improve in quality/variety of both the stories and the storytelling."

Sidetrack transforms its Main and Cherry Bars into a story-telling hall with chairs for seating. All speakers to date identify as LGBTQ, though the first-ever OUTspoken! featuring an all-allies lineup is slated for November, with such confirmed speakers as Laura Washington, Sun-Times columnist and political commentator; Gary Johnson, president of the Chicago History Museum; and Char and John Cepek, long time national leaders of PFLAG as well as Illinois activists on LGBTQ issues.

The August storytellers scheduled to appear are M Shelly Conner, Art Johnston, Brad Lippitz, Erin Marshall, Ella Nelson and Hadeis Safi. 

The September speakers are Steve Yoder, Dr. Patrick Tranmer, Charls Hall, Havalah Grace, Laura Stempel, and Jasmine L Thurmond.

OUTspoken! already has speakers booked into August, 2017.

"My favorite (OUTspoken!) stories usually are a mixture of humor and poignancy, (with the storyteller) recalling a very specific story (in) great detail. I could retell some of these favorite stories more than I can recall the specific speakers' names," Balof said.

Only a few storytellers have come back to speak a second time, and then it was about a different subject.

"The key is, we all have full rich lives," Fink said. "Talking about significant moments connects us. Although we may outwardly have little in common, as humans we all have a lot in common. Personal, true stories help remind us of these commonalities.

"The audience (attending OUTspoken!) has gotten more and more supportive and we have a lot of regular attendees. Also, a lot of past storytellers now attend (to hear others)."

OUTspoken! expanded outside of Sidetrack in its second year. There was, for instance, an OUTspoken! feature spot in Lifeline Theater's FILLET OF SOLO, a special joint event with Chicago Public Libraries to present at Sulzer Library as part of Pride Month, and it also was a featured workshop at CREATING CHANGE 2016 in Chicago.

Fink books the monthly speakers for inclusion, usually with three male and three female self-identified speakers. At minimum, "I try to have one male and one female of color in every show," he said. Johnston added that diversity of speakers is very important, that they are insistent on having a diverse group of storytellers every month. Diversity is by race, gender and age, he said.

Fink said his list of favorite speakers is tough to build, but definitely would include Kareem Khubchandani, Todd Keich, Archy Jamjun, Jackie Kaplan, Sarah Alexander and Abby McEnany. 

"The stories I remember most are usually historically important," Fink said. "Willa Taylor talked about going shopping for clothing with her mother and grandmother the day segregation became illegal. Art Johnston talked about getting the non-discrimination bill passed in the City of Chicago. Stephen Glick talked about the profound impact when homosexuality was no longer considered mental illness."

Fink said one of the long-term goals for OutSpoken is to expand and add a podcast, "so people anywhere in the world can find someone to whom they connect," he said.

Fink added, "There is a thriving scene of personal narrative shows in Chicago. Having one that is specifically LGBTQ is important for many reasons. It is important to share our stories so we don't lose our history, so we understand each other better, and so we come together with people who don't look like us."

OUTspoken! returns to Sidetrack (3349 N. Halsted) on Tuesday, Aug. 2, starting at 7 p.m.