BOYSTOWN— Owen Keehnen explains the Legacy Walk as a continuum: equal parts history, present and future.
“It’s about knowing we have a legacy,” said Keehnen, who has been involved in the project since it was conceived three years ago. “There were people that came before us and there will be people who come after us.”
Unveiled today on North Halsted Street in Boystown, the Legacy Walk is an outdoor museum celebrating the lives and accomplishments of GLBT people. Installed on the rainbow pylons lining Halsted Street, eighteen plaques highlight well known and some lesser-known GLBT figures.
“I think there will be some surprises,” said Sharyl Woltzman, the event’s coordinator. Woltzman said visitors might recognize the literary accomplishments of Oscar Wilde and James Baldwin, but not their contributions to the GLBT community. She said the plaques are meant to represent all aspects of the person’s life, whether they were openly gay or not.
“When you see a plaque on a public street,” said Woltzman, “that sends a very loud, clear message of pride to young GLBT people.”
At the dedication ceremony, openly gay 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney spoke about how important it was for GLBT youth to have positive role models to lead the way. Tunney said he followed Harvey Milk’s path from small business owner to politician.
“It worked for me,” said Tunney, “and it can work for you.”
Vernard Gilmore, 37, said he’s honored to represent an inductee that has influenced his life: Alvin Ailey. Gilmore grew up on the South Side of Chicago, moved to New York City at 18, and has spent the past 18 years as a dancer for Alvin Ailey’s dance company.
“He came out at a time when he wasn’t supposed to,” said Gilmore, “but he believed in what he did. I want to add my voice to his voice.”
Gilmore, who is now a principal dancer at Alvin Ailey, flew in from NYC to help unveil Ailey’s plaque.
Keehnen said he hopes the Legacy Walk will deepen pride on all levels, especially for at-risk GLBT youth. Beyond celebrating the history of the GLBT community, the Legacy Walk is about educating young GLBT members about the contributions other GLBT people have made for the past hundred years.
“This is a logical extension of, ‘It Gets Better,' ” said Keehnen.