The award-winning Legacy Project is a Chicago-based cultural and educational non-profit dedicated to researching and promoting the contributions Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) people have made to world history and culture. It is driven by a core of historians, biographers, educators, youth advocates, social activists, and community and business leaders who share a commitment to ending the redaction of LGBTQ contributions from shared human history.
The Legacy Project consists of multiple elements designed to raise awareness of an aspect of history most people do not know is missing. On October 11, 2012 – the date regarded as “National Coming Out Day” – the organization dedicated “The Legacy Walk” – the only outdoor LGBTQ museum walk in the world. The Legacy Walk, spanning one-half mile of North Halsted Street, is anchored by 25’-tall architectural pylons which identify the area as the nexus of Chicago’s diverse LGBTQ community. This massive installation presently features forty (40) 18” x 24” bronze memorials highlighting the contributions of LGBTQ people – both famous and obscure – throughout history. Inductees to the Legacy Walk are drawn from internal research and nominations submitted through the Legacy Project website. Nominees hail from 36 nations, have contributed in 21 diverse fields, and have traveled every walk of life over 4000 years of recorded history. Guided tours of the installation are offered for students, teachers and the general public between the months of March and November.
The Legacy Project Education Initiative (LPEI) was launched in April of 2013. LPEI is a growing body of professional teaching tools that use the biographies of Legacy Project nominees to inspire young people who have been forced to grow up without the benefit of historically significant LGBTQ role models. Age-appropriate lesson plans, study guides, resource links, and multimedia are available free of charge on-line for those who cannot access this rich and unique local installation in person. LPEI is a central component of a comprehensive and pro-active strategy to confront the ignorance which fuels anti-LGBTQ bullying in our schools. It is also used by several colleges and universities for pre-service teacher education and training. In 2019 the Legacy Project co-wrote and lobbied for passage of the Illinois LGBTQ-Inclusive Education Mandate. The bill was signed into law, making Illinois the fifth state to mandate the inclusion of LGBTQ contributions to history as part of general education in all its public schools.
In March of 2014, the Legacy Project dedicated its first satellite installation inside “Rainbow House” in Topeka, Kansas – the internationally acclaimed anti-bullying safe-pace located across the street from the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. The installation features eighteen (18) bronze memorial mock-ups highlighting individuals from the organization’s database. This international and multicultural celebration of LGBTQ contributions provides a much-valued opportunity for the hundreds of people who visit Equality House every month to explore the very information needed to counter the messages of hate which emanate from their neighbor across the street. Over 500 individuals – some traveling across three states – attended the exhibit’s Grand Opening.
In the August of 2015 the organization introduced “The Legacy Wall” – a 24’-long digitally interactive, traveling installation featuring 125 elements celebrating the contributions of LGBTQ people across 20 different fields – nearly 400 square-feet of biographical content in a 360o doubled-sided island. In addition to a broad spectrum of historical content, the installation highlights the challenges faced by LGBTQ youth with data culled from the GLSEN National School Climate Survey about the effectiveness of including LGBTQ-related content in general education for substantially lowering the incidence of bullying in our schools. The goal of the Legacy Wall is to use the powerful lessons of history to spark conversations about this information’s ability to promote a feeling of safety and belonging in the classroom, to give LGBTQ youth hope by improving their outlook on life, and to raise cultural awareness. After its public launch in October 2015 in the Illinois State Capitol, the Legacy Wall began a state-wide tour of 14 sites over 16 months. In 2017 it began a national tour. To date nearly three dozen sites have been visited, providing over 300,000 people with an opportunity to engage with this unique, inspiring, and educational installation.
In May of 2016 the Legacy Project launched the Legacy LIVE Series which “brings to life” LGBTQ historic figures through programs and events keyed to specific dates in history commemorating births, deaths, and other milestones. Legacy LIVE incorporates elements and aspects of all of the Legacy Project’s initiatives including ceremony’s on the Legacy Walk, film screenings, live performances, and educational lectures and presentations. These events include additional LGBTQ organizations, which serve as “presenting partners,” as well as area businesses who host receptions for those who attend. Legacy LIVE is part of a comprehensive effort to build an appreciation for LGBTQ History – which is not taught in schools – into the cultural awareness of the community. The end goal is to expand that cultural awareness enough to eventually support a brick and mortar LGBTQ History Museum on North Halsted Street that will explore on the stories behind LGBTQ contributions to world history and culture through artifacts, newspaper clippings, books, memorabilia, original artwork, recordings, and photography chronicling centuries of international achievement.
All the elements of the Legacy Project work in concert to reclaim the lives of people like Social Justice Advocate Jane Addams, Civil Rights pioneer Bayard Rustin, Cuban dissident Reinaldo Arenas, British mathematician Alan Turing, Chinese American patriotic icon Dr. Margaret Chung, Astronaut Sally Ride, Composer Cole Porter, Ugandan activist David Kato, Playwrights Lorraine Hansberry and Oscar Wilde, Poets Walt Whitman and Audre Lorde, LGBTQ Rights pioneers Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings, Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, Maestro Leonard Bernstein, acclaimed Author James Baldwin, Modern Dance and Ballet Superstars Alvin Ailey and Rudolf Nureyev, and Transgender icons Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, and the immortal Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Together these assets have brought this “hidden history” to those who access Legacy Project’s online education tools; to the thousands who make up its vast international social media following; to the hundreds of thousands who travel across state lines for a chance to view the Legacy Wall; and to the 1.5 million (literally, 1.5 million) people who visit the North Halsted Streetscape each year.
In 2019 the Legacy Walk was declared the largest LGBTQ-focused Historic Landmark in the world. There is nothing else on earth quite like Chicago’s Legacy Project.