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social sciences

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The 1980s were a crucial decade in the development of the glbtq community. Not only were numerous cultural organizations, such as the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus, established, but politicians became more responsive to lesbian and gay concerns. A number of gay men and lesbians were influential participants in the administration of Mayor Harold Washington (1983-1987), the city's first African-American mayor, and their political work helped establish the glbtq community as an important political constituency. In 1987, Washington appointed the first mayoral liaison to the gay and lesbian community.

The campaigns of openly gay physician Ron Sable (1945-1993) for city alderman in 1987 and 1991, though unsuccessful, demonstrated that a significant number of voters cared about glbtq issues. This recognition increased the responsiveness of the political establishment to gay and lesbian concerns.

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AIDS ravaged the gay male community in Chicago during the 1980s. In response Sable and Dr. Renslow Scherer established the Sable/Renslow AIDS Clinic. In addition, the Howard Brown Health Center, established in 1974 and named for the pioneering openly gay Public Health Commissioner for New York City, moved to the forefront of AIDS testing and treatment in the 1980s. It became the Midwest's leading provider of medical services to the glbtq community.

Militant AIDS activists formed a series of organizations that ultimately merged in the Chicago chapter of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). Staging demonstrations to protest the neglect of the AIDS crisis by government agencies and to pressure pharmaceutical companies to provide cheaper and more accessible drugs, ACT UP/Chicago brought a sense of urgency to the AIDS pandemic.

In 1988, Chicago gay men and lesbians finally won a fifteen-year battle for human rights when the city council passed the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance banning discrimination against lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals in employment, housing, and public accommodations. After this success, the business leaders who had spearheaded the campaign created an organization first known as the Illinois Federation for Human Rights, which soon became Equality Illinois, a statewide advocacy group.

Lesbian and gay activists continued working to extend protections against discrimination, and in 1993 Chicago's ordinance was adopted throughout Cook County. In 1997, activists persuaded the Cook County town of Evanston to include transgendered individuals in its protection ordinance, and in 2003 Chicago did the same.

Despite its size and influence, Chicago has not been on the cutting edge of the national glbtq movement for equality the way San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles have been, perhaps because politics in the city has traditionally been tightly controlled by the dominant political machine. Nevertheless, the glbtq community has earned an impressive record of political success by working within the local political establishment.

The current mayor, Richard M. Daley, elected to office in 1989, has been a loyal supporter of the glbtq community from the very beginning of his tenure. Not only did he declare his support for same-sex marriage in 2004, but he has frequently directed city resources to projects that benefit the glbtq community.

The 1990s and the 2000s

Beginning in the 1980s but accelerating in the 1990s, the focal point of the glbtq community in Chicago shifted from the downtown core and the Near North Side a few miles north, spreading to more residential locations. The Lakeview and Andersonville neighborhoods became the hub of gay and lesbian life. The most significant gay center now is popularly known as Boystown, located approximately between Belmont and Addison in the Lakeview neighborhood.

Throughout the 1990s and the early 2000s, the queer community of Chicago continued to develop and grow. In 1991 the Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame was established to honor prominent Chicago glbtq individuals and groups. It is the only U.S. organization of its kind to be city-sponsored.

Latino queers have done important community organizing in the 1990s and 2000s. They formed Amigas Latinas, a support group for Latina lesbians, bisexuals, and questioning women, in 1995, and launched Homofrecuencia, the nation's only glbtq radio program for Latino youth, in 2002.

A number of significant cultural groups have emerged in these decades, including Sex Police, an AIDS awareness performance group in 1990, and About Face Theater, a glbtq troupe, in 1995.

Openly gay and lesbian politicians not only began to seek office, but also occasionally to win their races. In 1994, Thomas R. Chiola became Chicago's first openly gay elected official when he was elected to Cook County Circuit Court. In 1996, Larry McKeon, a former mayoral liaison to the community, was elected to represent a legislative district that includes Andersonville, thus becoming Illinois' first openly gay state legislator.

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