By Jeremy Gordon
Chicago’s gay community stays pretty busy in the month of June, but Tracy Baim, a born-and-raised Chicagoan and executive editor of the Windy City Times and “Out and Proud in Chicago, ” an upcoming book that delves into the history of Chicago’s gay community, isn’t just looking forward like everyone at the parade, but back through time.
“Over the generations, it’s been very difficult for Chicago gays to learn about the past,” says Baim, who oversaw the 224-page tome that was completed in just six weeks in accordance with a WTTW documentary of the same name. “What I’m hoping is that this, as well as other projects that are going on, spark the interest of people to do more research,” she says.
After a brief introduction, the book starts at the beginning of the twentieth century and steadily progresses forward, focusing on key individuals and events of Chicago’s gay community. Baim, who ended up writing a few dozen articles herself, says that this book is the first of its kind to provide an overview and history of the community. “I’ve never seen one, and in doing this book, none has come to the surface, through all the historians we’ve talked to.” Because of this, Baim sees the book as a touchstone that any outsider could pick up and read, not as a specialized book for insiders only.
At this, it succeeds. The book is well-illustrated and paced with a good balance between politics and culture, from coverage of the Anita Bryant protests to profiles of people like architect Louis Sullivan and playwright Scott McPherson. “There was no way we could have, in the current 224 pages, gone in-depth into any one topic or area,” Baim says. She says she’ll compensate by putting up an abundance of extra information on the book’s Web site, which will be officially launched in September.
“We especially wanted to emphasize the pre-1980s era, because that’s the information that’s least known,” Baim says. “Unlike a lot of other communities, the gay community is much more difficult to find. This is the first documenting of a lot of that history.”
Baim also hopes the book will serve to thrust Chicago’s gay community into the spotlight. “I think that the community has been underrepresented in terms of national movement, politics and history. It’s kind of up to Chicago to correct that impression, because there have been very important leaders who have come out of Chicago whether political or cultural,” she says. “There are really significant events, people and organizations in Chicago that really do deserve a more national recognition for their work.”