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Nadya Faulx/MEDILL 

Melissa Terrell, center, of the Lakeside Pride Freedom Band, plays "Taps" before Sgt. Leonard Matlovich's Legacy Walk plaque is revealed.

Chicago gets lesson in LGBT history with new open-air museum

by Nadya Faulx
Oct 11, 2012


Nadya Faulx/MEDILL 

Dignitaries arrive to Thursday's dedication ceremony for the outdoor museum.

When computer engineer Robin Bruner heard Alan Turing would be commemorated in an outdoor museum spanning North Halsted Avenue, she knew she had to volunteer.  The British mathematician, who took his life after he was charged with homosexuality, was renowned for his code-breaking during World War II.

In the information technology industry, “we owe so much to Alan Turing,” said Bruner, who is from Chicago.  “People are going to hear his story, and it’s going to bring him into the spotlight, where he belongs.”

Turing and 17 other notable gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered figures are being honored as part of the Legacy Walk, a series of bronze plaques mounted to the rainbow pylons that dot Boystown.

On Thursday, before a crowd of nearly 100 politicians and dignitaries, Victor Salvo, executive director of the walk’s parent organization the Legacy Project, unveiled the plaques at a dedication ceremony in the heart of Boystown.

After he came home from the 1987 March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights, Salvo knew he wanted to build something revolutionary: an outdoor museum honoring the gay community and its role in society.

“It was before Internet, before scholarship of LGBT contributions; all of our information was anecdotal,” Salvo said.  “There was no place you could learn about LGBT history.”

He said seeing decades of work come to fruition was weird. 

“For 10 years, I didn’t tell anyone about this, not even my partner,” he said.  “It was an idea only in my head so much so that as I walked down the street past the pylons, I could see the plaques.”

Salvo said the plaques, which will rotate every two years, are only a small part of a larger goal that includes a permanent brick-and-mortar museum, potential installations in other cities and an education initiative.

The gay community has “been redacted in history,” he said.  “That’s why kids are killing themselves: They think they have no relevance in society.  They don’t learn about themselves, they have no role models.”

Candace Gingrich-Jones, associate director of Youth and Campus Outreach for the national gay-rights organization the Human Rights Campaign, said the walk would “set the history books straight.

“There are younger Americans, not even just LGBT Americans, that don’t really know the history of the movement,” she said. "This is an opportunity to educate ourselves and show non-LGBT people that there is this rich history.”

She said she hopes the walk will motivate similar memorials in other cities.

“It’s an inspiring idea,” she said.  “Very few cities could pull it off, and Chicago is one of them.”