The history of boystown's rainbow pylons
Those rainbow-colored rods symbolize Chicago's leadership in legitimizing the LGBT community.
Coastal queers claim front-runner status in the fight for LGBT equality, but the Land of Lincoln can wave its Pride banner any day. In 1962, for example, Illinois became the first state to strike down its antisodomy laws. It took almost a decade for Connecticut to follow suit.
Here in Chicago, our homo heritage stands just as tall. In 1991, the city created the Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame to acknowledge the contributions of LGBT Chicagoans and their allies in the fight to eradicate homophobia. It was the first municipally funded institution of its kind, and counts Billie Jean King, About Face Theatre, the bar Sidetrack and friends of the community Studs Terkel and Mayor Richard M. Daley among its inductees.
But it’s those 20-foot bronze sculptures, and their rainbow rings, lining North Halsted Street that supply the most misty-eyed sense of pride. Daley erected (hee, hee) them in 1998 to officially designate the area a gay ’hood as part of his Neighborhoods Alive program. Sure, these faux-futuristic structures are both noticeably phallic (what were they thinking?) and almost superfluous in today’s increasingly gay-friendly world. But back in the late ’90s, this was a big deal.
“When Chicago designated Halsted Street as a gay neighborhood and put up the pylons, that was the first time a U.S. city had officially designated a neighborhood as being ‘gay,’ ” says William Greaves, director for the city’s advisory council on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. “It was groundbreaking.”
To ensure Chicago’s claim in queer history, Daley withstood outcries from straight residents, who argued a gay ghetto would lower their property values (uh, more like raise them, straighties), and even from gay folks, who feared outing the ’hood could cause a spike in gay bashing. To West Hollywood, Chelsea, the Castro and gay neighborhoods everywhere, we say: Take that.