What a year this has been! A pandemic that has taken so many lives and disrupted our social routines. A deeply divisive election campaign. The continuing exposure of police violence, especially against African Americans.
The immediacy and emotional toll of these events can make it seem as if we are living through a time unlike any other. But can history illuminate the present moment? Can it help us understand more deeply the world we live in and the kind of responses to it that might help us build a better one?
Gerber/Hart Library and Archives is committed to preserving and making accessible the history of LGBTQ communities in Chicagoland and the greater Midwest. Our collections document a broad range of lives and events and, not surprisingly, they can offer revealing perspectives on the challenges of life in the present. For instance, Gerber/Hart’s archives contain revealing and inspiring evidence about:
- The fight to stop the spread of AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s. Organizations like Black and White Men Together engaged in massive grassroots education campaigns to contain this deadly disease, at a time when the federal government was doing far too little. These efforts made a difference.
- The Transvestite Legal Committee. Founded in Chicago in 1971, it was one of the earliest transgender activist groups in the U.S. Its founding was sparked by the killing of an unarmed African American transwoman, who was shot in the back and killed by Chicago police. The story of the TLC makes clear that police violence against the marginalized is not new and has inspired resistance in the past.
- Voting and Elections. In 1988, the Chicago LGBTQ community organized Impact ’88, a massive campaign to register voters. The number of voters registered exceeded all expectations and, a few weeks after the campaign ended, Chicago enacted a sexual orientation non-discrimination law.
And, of course, there is so much more to be learned from the history that Gerber/Hart is pledged to save for future generations. So many more stories, lives, events, community endeavors that can inspire and inform us.
The pandemic has posed its own set of challenges to Gerber/Hart and its mission. How do we make history accessible in an era of social distancing? The pandemic has spurred us forward in the use of the web to spread the stories from our past. In these last eight months, we have mounted a variety of historical documents and sources on to our website: episodes of The 10% Show, an LGBTQ television show from the late 1980s; videos of many of Chicago’s Pride Parades; and induction ceremonies into the Chicago LGBTQ Hall of Fame, with informative profiles of notable community activists and leaders. And our Instagram and Facebook posts present our history on social media.
This year has made more apparent than ever the need to know and reflect upon the lessons that history offers. Gerber/Hart believes that a knowledge of history can move us toward a more just, equitable, and inclusive society. You can help us to preserve our history so that future generations will have a knowledge of it.
Please make a year-end donation. Your gift will make a difference. You can help us save LGBTQ history!