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Queer Legacies

Stories from Chicago’s LGBTQ Archives

Queer Legacies

Stories from Chicago’s LGBTQ Archives

The variety of LGBTQ life in Chicago is too abundant and too diverse to be contained in a single place. But since 1981, the Gerber/Hart Library and Archives has striven to do just that, amassing a wealth of records related to the city’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer-identified people and organizations. In Queer Legacies, John D’Emilio—a pioneering scholar in the field—digs deep into Gerber/Hart’s collection to unearth a kaleidoscopic look at the communities built by generations of LGBTQ people. Excavated from one of the country’s most important, yet overlooked, LGBTQ archives, D’Emilio’s entertaining and enthusiastic essays range in focus from politics and culture to social life, academia, and religion. He gives readers an inclusive and personal look at fifty years of a national fight for visibility, recognition, and equality led by LGBTQ Americans who, quite literally, made history. In these troubled times, it will surely inspire a new generation of scholars and activists.

208 pages | 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 | © 2020

Chicago and Illinois

Gay and Lesbian Studies

History: Urban History


“Informative and plainspoken. . . Makes a convincing case for the power of storytelling to build communities and movements, and the importance of archival records in preserving 'a proud heritage of resistance.' This sparkling account has much to offer LGBTQ historians and activists.”

Publishers Weekly

Queer Legacies offers an inspiring overview of individual perseverance, poignant losses, and stirring collective gains. . . . As much a work of love – D'Emilio's passion for prowling through the Gerber-Hart Archives and the countless stories they contain is palpable – as it is a work of history. . . . Now Chicago can boast a worthy addition to the growing body of place-based queer histories.”


"D’Emilio is an award-winning author and University of Illinois at Chicago professor emeritus who has researched LGBTQ+ history for decades. In Queer Legacies, he turns his focus on stories from the Gerber/Hart Library and Archives, Chicago’s repository for queer history. . . . These inquiries highlight the diversity of activism and experience and are grouped by such themes as religion, lesbian history, and AIDS activism. D'Emilio doesn’t shy away from the passion of short-lived ventures or the ideological conflicts that caused the demise of activist groups."


“It wouldn’t be completely wrong to describe Queer Legacies as the closest thing to the Pride Parade we’ll get this year. . . . Like the physical parade, the book has a bit of everything. . . . As a scholar, D’Emilio has turned archives into allies, expanding a community’s understanding of itself and its commitments.” 

Third Coast Review

"Recommended. . . Rather than offering just biographical sketches of queer activists in the Windy City, however, the majority of the 38 chapters outline the sheer variety of groups active in promoting civil rights and social acceptance for LGBTQ people, primarily during and after the history-making 1969 Stonewall Riots and until the AIDS crisis of the 1980s."


"As entertaining as it is intellectually stimulating. . . .  The book rewards its readers with a wealth of details and surprising insights."


“Reading Queer Legacies is like sitting across the dinner table, spellbound, as D’Emilio spins a tapestry of queer life in Chicago. By the time dessert arrives, you’ve not only learned a lot of history, but also what it’s like to find moving and shocking surprises in dusty archive boxes. D’Emilio has once again worked his magic.”

Leila Rupp, author of A Desired Past: A Short History of Same-Sex Love in America

“A wonderfully evocative book and an unparalleled look at Chicago’s LGBTQ past. Full of fascinating stories, Queer Legacies gives us a front-row seat to over fifty years of community building and activism.”

David K. Johnson, author of The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government

D’Emilio is a true master of the archive and a writer who brings the past to life as few others do. This guide to Chicago’s queer activist past is a new kind of community history, one that illustrates the possibilities of the historian’s craft and, at the same time, provides a valuable and vibrant guide to one of our most important LGBTQ collections.”

Claire Potter, author of Political Junkies: From Talk Radio to Twitter, How Alternative Media Hooked Us on Politics and Broke Our Democracy

Table of Contents


1 Merle’s Story

2 The Struggle for Self-Acceptance: The Life of George Buse

3 Renee Hanover: Always a Radical

4 Max Smith: A Gay Liberationist at Heart

5 The Gay Liberation Era in Chicago

6 A Queer Radical’s Story: Step May and Chicago Gay Liberation

7 The Transvestite Legal Committee

8 A National Network under the Radar: The Transvestite Information Service

9 A Mother to Her Family: The Life of Robinn Dupree

10 Controversy on Campus: Northwestern University and Garrett Theological Seminary

11 Activist Catholics: Dignity’s Work in the 1970s and 1980s

12 Dennis Halan and the Story of Chicago’s “Gay Mass”

13 Moving Forward with Integrity

14 Lutherans Concerned: A Continuing Struggle

15 Running for Office: The Campaign of Gary Nepon

16 Ten Years after Stonewall: The Police Are Still Attacking Us

17 Trying to Work Together: The Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Metropolitan Chicago

18 Knowledge Is Power: Chicago’s Gay Academic Union

19 Sexual Orientation and the Law

20 A Lesbian Community Center in Chicago

21 The Artemis Singers and the Power of Music

22 Printing Our Way to Freedom: The Metis Press

23 Picturing Lesbian History: The Passion of Janet Soule

24 Lesbian Chicago: Striving for Visibility

25 We Are Family: The Birth of Amigas Latinas

26 Our Legacy Lives On: Amigas Latinas as an Activist Force

27 Challenging a Color Line: Black and White Men Together

28 Chicago Mobilizes to March on Washington

29 Confronting AIDS: The Response of Black and White Men Together

30 The Rise of Bisexual Activism

31 Impact ’88: Becoming a Force in Electoral Politics

32 Facing Off with the Media: The Work of GLAAD-Chicago

33 Building Community: Peg Grey and the Power of Sports

34 Fighting the Military Ban: James Darby and the Effort to Mobilize Veterans

35 The Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS

36 A Community Fights AIDS: The Work of BEHIV

37 Making Schools Safe

38 We Will Not Stay Quiet: The 85% Coalition

Afterword: Further Reading


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