Out In Chicago

September 12, 2011 6:00 AM

(credit: Chicago History Museum)

paradewalkers Out In Chicago

(credit: Chicago History Museum)

Chicago History Museum

1601 N. Clark St.

Chicago, IL 60614

(312) 642-4600
Mon – Sat 9:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
Sun 12:00 noon–5:00 p.m
$14 Adults; $12 Seniors and Students
Children 12 and under Free

American cities are large and diverse, but despite living side-by-side with different groups and cultures, we don’t often know much about our neighbors. A show at the Chicago History Museum helps change that: Out in Chicago, which runs through March 26, 2012, focuses on the lives and history of the city’s LGBT population.

As an introduction, the exhibit breaks down different groups within the LGBT community by showing clothing from real Chicagoans. There’s a leather ensemble and the wedding outfits of a butch/femme lesbian couple. Early in the show, you’ll find definitions plastered all over the walls to help visitors keep track of terminology. The show assumes no knowledge of LGBT history, which means it’s easy to walk through and learn a lot without feeling overwhelmed.

Spanning the past 150 years, the exhibit explores how Chicago came to attract a large LGBT population. Chicago was the first city to ban cross-dressing, and on display are newspaper clippings, drawings and photographs of the individuals who challenged the law. The next section looks at how LGBT people formed homes and forged relationships in the city. There are documents, photographs and other displays about Hull House (which Jane Addams founded as a West Side settlement for immigrants and the poor). Out in Chicago explores how LGBT people redefine what it means to be a family, and how families fit into the larger community.

jackiebross Out In Chicago

(courtesy of Chicago History Museum)

Videotaped interviews play throughout the show, and include recollections of individuals’ and couples’ experiences about being LGBT in Chicago.

Moving from private spaces to public, the show next looks at areas that Chicagoans used to gather, like bars, and raids that were made on them by police in the 1960s. Also on display is the first issue of the newspaper Windy City Times, an outfit worn by a drag king performer at Pride celebrations, a motorcycle from the Dykes on Bikes parade held during Pride, and mementos from the Gay Games, which were held in Chicago in 2006. The last section looks at activism and politics, including AIDS and transgender activism.

By bringing together such an extensive collection of objects and incorporating multimedia aspects, like letting visitors record video of their own experiences, the show is a successful look at the complex history of LGBT people in Chicago.

Out in Chicago is on view through March 26, 2012. For more information, visit chicagohistory.org.

Amy Cavanaugh, CBS Chicago