30 key moments in Chicago's LGBTQ history, from Jane Addams to Lori Lightfoot

June 24, 2019

Over the years, Chicago and the state of Illinois have endured a monumental battle for LGBTQ rights. A century ago, and long before Lori Lightfoot was elected the first openly gay mayor of Chicago, the city was home to LGBTQ rights influencers such as Henry Gerber and Pearl Hart. Here are 30 moments in history that impacted LGBTQ communities across Chicago and Illinois.

Jane Addams, right, pauses with Mary McDowell, a kindergarten teacher at Hull House, circa 1917.
Jane Addams, right, pauses with Mary McDowell, a kindergarten teacher at Hull House, circa 1917. (Chicago Tribune)

1889: Social reformer and activist Jane Addams opens Chicago’s Hull House, a settlement house, on the city’s West Side. Addams “had at least two long-term same-sex relationships — one of which, with Mary Rozet Smith, lasted 40 years,” according to the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame.

1914: Pearl Hart graduates from John Marshall Law School in 1914. Known as the “Guardian Angel of Chicago’s Gay Community,” Hart is one of the first female attorneys to practice criminal law in Chicago and frequently defends countless gay men arrested in bars and tea rooms.

Pioneer gay and civil rights activist Henry Gerber.
Pioneer gay and civil rights activist Henry Gerber. (Handout)

1924: The first American gay rights organization, The Society for Human Rights, is created by German immigrant and Chicago resident Henry Gerber. The state of Illinois officially recognizes the group on Dec. 10, 1924.

1935: Street hustler and gambler Alfred Finnie hosts the first Finnie’s Ball in a basement tavern near 38th Street and Michigan Avenue on Chicago’s South Side. The festivities continue for decades, with thousands of attendees participating in female impersonation contests. A 1953 Ebony magazine article said, “More than 1,500 spectators milled around outside Chicago’s Pershing Ballroom to get a glimpse of the bejeweled impersonators who arrived in limousines, taxis, Fords, and even by streetcar.”

 
1950: Jazz trumpeter Ernestine “Tiny” Davis opens the club Tiny & Ruby’s Gay Spot with her partner Ruby Lucas in the 2700 block of South Wentworth Avenue in Chicago.
 

1956: On Aug. 30, 1956, psychologist Evelyn Hooker delivers her paper “The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual,” which was published a year later, at the American Psychiatric Association Convention in Chicago. Her study challenged beliefs about gay men and found that they were not inherently abnormal. In 1973 the APA removed homosexuality from its list of psychiatric disorders.

Lorraine Hansberry speaks at an NAACP Rally in June 1959.
Lorraine Hansberry speaks at an NAACP Rally in June 1959. (Gin Briggs/Lorraine Hansberry Properties Trust)

1959: “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry becomes the first play written by an African American woman to open on Broadway. Hansberry, who grew up on Chicago’s South Side, featured same-sex attraction in some of her work and is credited with writing two pro-lesbian letters in “The Ladder,” an early lesbian publication, according to the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame.

1961: Illinois is the first state to do away with sodomy laws on July 28, 1961.

Attorney Pearl Hart in her Loop office Dec. 28, 1970.
Attorney Pearl Hart in her Loop office Dec. 28, 1970. (Chicago Tribune)

1965: Lesbian pulp novelist Valerie Taylor and lawyer Pearl Hart, among others, establish Mattachine Midwest, the city’s first successful gay rights organization. The group publishes the Mattachine Midwest Newsletter covering police harassment, raids, legal issues, local events, meetings, community news and more.

1968: Attorney Ralla Klepak represents Chicago bar The Trip after it is illegally raided and loses its liquor license. The case makes it to the Supreme Court and Klepak is victorious.

Gay Liberation Front members march through Bughouse Square (now Washington Square Park) on their way to a rally at the Civic Center (now Daley Plaza) on June 27, 1970, as part of Chicago's first Gay Pride Week.
Gay Liberation Front members march through Bughouse Square (now Washington Square Park) on their way to a rally at the Civic Center (now Daley Plaza) on June 27, 1970, as part of Chicago's first Gay Pride Week. (Chicago Tribune)

1970One of the first pride parades in the U.S. is held in Chicago on June 27, 1970, a day before the anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York a year earlier.

Howard Brown Health Center's Youth Prevention Program Coordinator Joe Hollendoner, 22, talks to teens about the proper use of condoms at the Youth Drop-in Center on Aug. 22, 2003.
Howard Brown Health Center's Youth Prevention Program Coordinator Joe Hollendoner, 22, talks to teens about the proper use of condoms at the Youth Drop-in Center on Aug. 22, 2003. (Anthony Robert La Penna/Chicago Tribune)

1974: The Chicago Gay Medical Students Association creates Howard Brown Memorial Clinic, a place where gays and lesbians can receive counseling and sexually transmitted infections testing and treatment. The clinic eventually becomes Howard Brown Health Center.

1977: On June 14, 1977, thousands gather outside the Medinah Temple to protest Florida orange juice spokeswoman Anita Bryant, who opposed gay rights.

Mayor Harold Washington attends a gay rights rally in Lincoln Park on July 1, 1984. Washington said the fight for gay rights is part of the larger struggle for civil rights.
Mayor Harold Washington attends a gay rights rally in Lincoln Park on July 1, 1984. Washington said the fight for gay rights is part of the larger struggle for civil rights. (Ernie Cox Jr./Chicago Tribune)

1984: Mayor Harold Washington delivers a speech at an LGBT rally in Lincoln Park, endorsing what was known as the Human Rights Ordinance. This is the first time a sitting mayor speaks at an event not connected to a campaign. Washington died before the ordinance was approved by the City Council on Dec. 21, 1988.

1985: On March 2, 1985, drugmaker Abbott develops the first blood screening test for HIV antibodies.

1988: The Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, which honors the lives of those lost to the disease, is displayed at Navy Pier from July 7 to July 11, 1988.

1989: On Jan. 2, 1989, Open Hand Chicago begins regular meal deliveries for those impacted by AIDS.

1991: The Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame, later renamed the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame, is created in Chicago, honoring people and organizations who have contributed to the city’s LGBTQ communities.

A man walks his bicycle as he heads north across the Midway Plaisance toward a University of Chicago courtyard April 7, 2000.
A man walks his bicycle as he heads north across the Midway Plaisance toward a University of Chicago courtyard April 7, 2000. (Alex Garcia/Chicago Tribune)

1992: The University of Chicago begins to offer benefits to gay and lesbian couples, one of the first colleges to do so.

1992: Daniel Sotomayor, the co-founder of ACT-UP/Chicago, a national organization committed to using direct action and civil disobedience to fight AIDS, passes away.

A group of openly gay and lesbian Cook County judges formed their own association called the Alliance of Illinois Judges. Tom Chiola, from left, Nancy Katz, Mary Colleen Roberts and Jim Snyder are seen Nov. 16, 2009.
A group of openly gay and lesbian Cook County judges formed their own association called the Alliance of Illinois Judges. Tom Chiola, from left, Nancy Katz, Mary Colleen Roberts and Jim Snyder are seen Nov. 16, 2009. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune)

1994: Thomas R. Chiola is the first openly gay elected official in Illinois when he becomes a Cook County Circuit Court judge.

1995: Judges on a state appellate court note, “nothing in the (Adoption) Act suggests that sexual orientation is a relevant consideration, and lesbians and gay men are permitted to adopt in Illinois.”

Robert Castillo, who is not a city employee but lives with a domestic partner, applauds when an opponent of the health-benefits plan at the City Council Finance Committee hearing in 1997 said he might leave Chicago if the proposed ordinance is approved by the full council.
Robert Castillo, who is not a city employee but lives with a domestic partner, applauds when an opponent of the health-benefits plan at the City Council Finance Committee hearing in 1997 said he might leave Chicago if the proposed ordinance is approved by the full council. (Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune)

1997: Chicago passes an ordinance that grants fringe benefits to same-sex domestic partners of city government employees.

2001: Illinois recognizes hate crimes against gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

The Center on Halsted on June 5, 2007.
The Center on Halsted on June 5, 2007. (Milbert O. Brown/Chicago Tribune)

2007: On June 1, 2007, The Center on Halsted, which began in 1973 as Gay Horizons, opens its doors on the corner of Halsted Street and Waveland Avenue. Now, more than 1,000 people use the center each day.

2008: Illinois legislators decide same-sex partners can make decisions regarding health care in certain circumstances.

2010: Illinois passes the Safe School Improvement Act, which prohibits bullying and the harassment of students based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Vernita Gray, right, and Patricia Ewert were the first same-sex couple to marry in Illinois on Nov. 27, 2013.
Vernita Gray, right, and Patricia Ewert were the first same-sex couple to marry in Illinois on Nov. 27, 2013. (Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune)

2013: Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signs the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, making Illinois the 16th state in the nation to embrace full marriage equality for same-sex couples on Nov. 20, 2013. Longtime activist Vernita Gray, and her partner, Patricia Ewert, are the first same-sex couple married in Illinois on Nov. 27, 2013.

Lori Lightfoot, right, kisses her wife, Amy Eshleman, after being sworn in as mayor of Chicago at Wintrust Arena on May 20, 2019.
Lori Lightfoot, right, kisses her wife, Amy Eshleman, after being sworn in as mayor of Chicago at Wintrust Arena on May 20, 2019. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune)

2019: Lori Lightfoot, 56, is elected mayor of Chicago. She becomes Chicago’s first black woman and openly gay mayor. She is inaugurated on May 20, 2019.

 

 

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