The LGBT Health & Development Program

Youth Blog – 10 Facts You Didn’t Know About Chicago’s LGBTQ History (Part 1)

Posted on October 20th, 2016 by IMPACT in Featured, Youth Blog. No Comments

A black and white photo of a group of people dancing in a concert hall.

Photo credit:, “The Nightlife in Bronzeville

Written by Arielle, IMPACT intern

While Chicago may be known to most for its deep-dish pizza and incredible architecture, the Windy City is full of remarkable LGBTQ history moments and famous figures you may not know.

1. Back in 1924, a German immigrant tried to start a gay rights movement.

Henry Gerber, a German immigrant, was inspired by the gay rights movement in his home country, so he founded the first LGBT organization in the United States. Gerber decided to call his organization the Society for Human Rights. Because it openly supported gay rights, the Society had to be careful not to break laws. For example, it was illegal to write things that mentioned “inappropriate” sexual activities. Gerber ignored these restrictions on free speech, and published the first gay newspaper called Friendship and Freedom [1].

2. During the Jazz and Blues era beginning in the 20’s, Black queer artists broke social norms.

Bronzeville, a historically Black neighborhood, was a large and busy neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, where people were free to express themselves through clothing and performance [2]. Lots of social clubs hosted LGBTQ-focused performances. Some of the city’s most famous blues musicians were also queer. Song lyrics proudly referenced “sissy men” and other folks who didn’t follow gender rules. Every Halloween and New Year’s Eve the neighborhood held huge drag balls, which later became symbolic of the South Side’s rich culture [3].

3. Queer woman pulp fiction was all the rage in the 50’s and 60’s.

At the time, bisexual and lesbian authors published tons of dramatic stories. People of all sexualities loved these novels, which told stories of everyday lesbians, except with way more drama: secret romance, drug involvement, and dramatic death. One of the most famous authors was Valerie Taylor, a bisexual, Native American activist who published several famous books in Chicago. She also worked to organize the city’s first Lesbian Writers’ Conference in 1974 [1].

4. Illinois was the first state to repeal its sodomy law in 1961.

Sodomy laws targeted gay citizens  for public and private behavior. People thought that same-sex relationships were a “crime against nature.” Lawmakers were especially worried about “sex crimes” in Chicago, because the city had a large LGBTQ population. Illinois’ sodomy law was finally repealed in 1961, and same-sex relations were no longer illegal [4].

5. Chicago hosted an international competition of thousands of LGBTQ athletes.

The Gay Games began in 1982 as a place for all types athletes to feel comfortable competing. Like the Olympics, the Gay Games are held in a different country every few years. In 2006, athletes from 70 countries came to Chicago to compete in every sport, from figure skating to swimming [5]. The games also featured many live performances. Fun fact: Chicago’s famous DJ Frankie Knuckles, the founder of house music, played during the opening ceremony [6].

Like New York and San Francisco, Chicago has always had a vibrant LGBTQ culture. Throughout history, authors, artists, and athletes all pushed society’s boundaries in their own ways. Tune in next week to learn about the history of Chicago’s Pride Parade!

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1. D’Emilio, J. (2012). Chicago Whispers: A History of LGBT Chicago Before Stonewall. University of Wisconsin Pres.

2. Queer Bronzeville. (n.d.). Retrieved from

3. Queer Bronzeville: African American LGBTs on Chicago’s South Side, 1900-1985 – Gay Lesbian Bi Trans News Archive – Windy City Times. (2012, February 29). Retrieved from

4. The History of Sodomy Laws in the United States – Illinois. (n.d.). Retrieved from

5. Uncle Donald’s Castro Street – Gay Games. (n.d.). Retrieved from

6. Frankie Knuckles at Gay Games – Gay Lesbian Bi Trans News Archive – Windy City Times. (2006, July 1). Retrieved August 06, 2016, from

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