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social sciences

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One famous drag ball was Finnie's Ball, originated by an African-American gay man named Alfred Finnie in 1935. Finnie's Balls, held as Halloween celebrations, continued to attract bohemian Chicagoans into the 1960s.

World War II and Post-War Repression

After the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, a number of bars catering exclusively to gay men and lesbians opened, both on the Near North Side and in the Loop, which also became a cruising area for gay men.

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World War II brought another increase in Chicago's gay population, as thousands of men and women passed through the city. After the war, many returned to stay there and become part of the flourishing gay community, which spread to areas such as Old Town, Hyde Park, and Lakeview, and a gay leather scene became visible.

Though conservative elements of society had always condemned homosexuality, and the police had frequently responded with arrests and rough treatment, the 1950s introduced a new level of repression.

Government "red squads" seeking Communists began to investigate homosexuals along with teachers, social workers, and leftists. Gay and lesbian bars were raided more frequently, and police were not above planting drugs to enable them to make arrests. Chicago newspapers not only printed names of those arrested, but also addresses, phone numbers, and occupations, leading to further harassment of gay men and lesbians, who often lost their jobs after such incidents.

A courageous lesbian lawyer helped victimized gay men and lesbians fight back against police harassment and entrapment. Pearl M. Hart (1890-1978) was a progressive lawyer and law professor who devoted her life to helping queers and other vulnerable people fight police brutality. The first woman lawyer to work as a public defender in Chicago's morals court, she also helped found the Chicago chapter of the Mattachine Society during the 1950s.

The 1960s and 1970s

Inspired by the report of Britain's Wolfenden Commission (1957), the American Law Institute created a Model Penal Code that decriminalized homosexual activity in private. In 1961, Illinois adopted this criminal code and thus became the first state to legalize consensual homosexual acts in private. Despite the significance of this milestone, however, the repression of public queer activity, including socializing in gay bars, continued.

Despite the repression, a gay and lesbian political movement came to the fore in the 1960s. In 1964, a chapter of the Mattachine Society was revitalized as Mattachine Midwest by Robert Basker and Pearl Hart. The new chapter was independent of the national organization and more militant. It protested police abuse and entrapment and aided victims of bar raids and morals arrests.

The movement gathered steam after New York's Stonewall Riots of 1969, which inspired many other gay men and lesbians to begin to organize politically and publicly. Among the first of these new organizations was the Gay Liberation Front at the University of Chicago, followed by other groups, including Chicago Gay Liberation (CGL), which, along with Mattachine Midwest and Women's Caucus, organized the first Chicago Gay Pride in June 1970.

Having been denied a parade permit, some 150 protesters marched along the city's sidewalks, protesting the injustices suffered by glbtq people. The next year the 150-person demonstration had evolved into a 1,200-person parade.

As was the case with other gay groups, it was not long before CGL discovered divisions among its members, and two offshoot groups formed, Chicago Lesbian Liberation and Third World Gay Revolution.

The 1970s saw an explosion of gay and lesbian political organizing and gay and lesbian culture. Gay and lesbian bars, dance clubs, bathhouses, bookstores, theaters, restaurants, newspapers, and other venues proliferated.

Perhaps the most important institution established in the 1970s was Gay Horizons (now Horizons Community Services), which was founded in 1972. At first hardly more than a telephone helpline staffed by volunteers, the organization has grown to become one of the country's largest glbtq social agencies, offering a wide range of services from anti-violence projects to legal aid and psychotherapeutic counseling.

The Mountain Moving Coffeehouse for Womyn and Children opened in 1975 to provide women-only space and a stage for lesbian culture. The coffeehouse remained open for thirty-one years, not closing its doors until December 2005.

The 1980s

In 1981, queer historians opened the Midwest Gay and Lesbian Archive and Library in order to preserve Chicago's gay heritage. Founded by Gregory Sprague, a Loyola University researcher who died of complications from AIDS in 1987, the archive was later renamed the Gerber/Hart Library after gay and lesbian pioneers Henry Gerber and Pearl M. Hart.

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