Browse Exhibits (17 total)

5th & Hill

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Five minutes north of the engineering quad of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Fifth and Hill neighborhood is a residential area which is made up of a predominantly African American, working class population. Despite being minutes away from the multi-billion dollar institution, the neighborhood is facing an environmental crisis, as a toxic site sits at its center.

For years, the community has been fighting against the energy company, Ameren, to clean up the toxic waste site their company has contributed to. While Ameren has done some clean-up (only after being confronted by residents in the 5th and Hill Community Rights Campaign), test results show that toxic waste still remains on the edge of many residents' properties. Ameren and the city have not done any testing on the residential lots, but it stands to reason that ground water has carried the chemicals and spread them throughout the neighborhood.

Many residents currently abiding in the area have dealt with sickness and life threatening diseases likely caused by the volatile organic compunds that are released into the air from the contaminated groundwater. The Champaign County Health Care Consumers (CCHCC) and the Fifth & Hill Community Rights Campaign have been working for the past 12 years trying to deliver justice and reparations to the community residents. 

A T-Shirt Can Change the World

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T-shirts play a vital role in identification and visibility that other forms of media distributed by social justice organizations. While pamphlets and newsletters are essential for distributing information and educational material, one can instantly identify with someone wearing a big gay t-shirt. This medium for public communication often goes unrecognized but has played a prominent role in LGBTQ+ activism since the beginning.

AIDS Activism

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Created in the 1980s, the Gay Community AIDS Project (GCAP) was vital in creating a community for those living with AIDS and their allies in Champaign-Urbana.  It had two main goals - provide support for both those who had AIDS and their loved ones, and educate the community at large about AIDS.

Its members presented educational materials to various groups in Champaign-Urbana largely focused on ways to protect oneself from contracting AIDS. They also purchased and maintained a home known as the Champaign House where those living with AIDS could stay. 

In the 1990s, after prolonged debate, the organization decided to change its name to Greater Community AIDS project, to reflect the idea that AIDS does not only affect members of the gay community. 

Drag within the Larger C/U Community

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Over the course of Champaign-Urbana history, Drag has maintained a deep history within the community... Throughout most of its history in the community, Drag has maintained its home in the bars that are a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Most recently this was the Chester Street Bar, C Street. Unfortunately, C Street closed its doors for the last time in 2017 and since then the drag community has been without a steady home. Not only did spaces like C Street provide a venue for drag performances, but it provided a space for the larger LGBTQ+ community to be a part of the nightlife community of Champaign-Urbana. Although the straight community maintains a relatively positive and accepting perspective, the “gay friendly” environment is still in need of work. Often, straight communities are kept for acceptance when it benefits them professionally.  

Essentially speaking, drag continuously allows for interconnectivity within the larger LGBTQ+ and queer community. Nightclubs are not the only stage drag performers have in the Champaign-Urbana community. In 2018, the Urbana Free Library started Drag Queen Story time. At this event, queens read stories aloud to children at the library, introducing them to the drag and greater LGBTQ+ community. Additionally, this event provides local performers the chance to read in drag. Most importantly, the opening of these community spaces and events allows for mainstream society to create and foster relations with the drag community in ways previously unheard of. After all, children don’t commonly attend drag performances and this form of representation is virtual for queer youth.  

Greater Community AIDS Project

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Greater Community AIDS Project of East Central Illinois (GCAP)
GCAP exists to empower the lives of those living with HIV/AIDS and to help eliminate the spread of the disease, GCAP collaborates with local resources and organizations to serve its community by providing educational outreach to the public and by providing support to those who are living with HIV/AIDS in the form of transitional housing, emergency financial assistance and other services.

GCAP is deeply indebted to members of the gay community. In the mid-1980s they founded the Gay Community AIDS Project with the foresight and energy to realize that sweeping HIV/AIDS under the table was not the answer. The name was changed in the mid-1990's to reflect that HIV/AIDS could infect anyone, not just persons having same sex relations.

There is now a generation of people who learned about the disease from the efforts of GCAP. Today, GCAP is as committed as ever and has expanded its original purpose. While some of the demographics of the disease have changed, we are all still family.

GCAP’s official site lists more information, events, and volunteer opportunities. https://www.gcapnow.com/

Meanwhile, please see the many collections related to GCAP and AIDS activism on the main page of the "LGBTQ+ Community Organizations and Activism" page.

IMC Radio Station

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The idea for WRFU, a low power FM station, began in 1999, but was not able to immediately start production as they waited patiently for FCC construction permits. After approval by the FCC they were able to begin construction on the transmitter in what was called a “barnraising” by participants over a single weekend. WRFU was then able to be on air in 2005, with the station at the IMC location of 210 S. Broadway, Urbana, IL, in the former post office purchased for $350,000. The station is maintained through local membership and donation, as well as arts grants, as news stations and organizations are not typically offered grants. WRFU has been a vessel that would report the news of disenfranchised groups in the Champaign-Urbana area who were not covered by mainstream media. They continue to provide an amplifier for voices that are too commonly drowned out.

Intersectional Activism from Justin Hendrix

Black people in the United States have endured a long history of fighting systemic racism in this country. Notable figures would rise to fame when we list the names of Black people who have fought on the right side of humanity. Names such as Martin Luther King, Ella Baker, and Malcolm X are some of the prominent names that jump out when discussing the fight for liberation. Too often, however, are the names of LGBT+ Black activists mentioned, such as James Baldwin, Marsha P. Johnson, and Justin's inspiration, Bayard Rustin. 

This exhibit is to showcase the activism of Justin Hendrix, a Black queer man who brings intersectionality to the forefront of his organizing. Hendrix was born and raised in Champaign, was a member of Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club, and was inspired to pursue activism and advocacy after participating in the Beats program, founded by Dr. William Patterson at the University of Illinois. There he found connections to education, art, and technology through hip hop, and learned the importance of representation.

He’s been involved in advocacy work statewide with Equality Illinois, and nationally with GLAAD, and has recently been very active in the Champaign-Urbana community through his organization HITNHOMEBOY. In a summer filled with marches and protests, Hendrix joined fellow activists in leading the charge here in C-U. In partnering with other justice-oriented organizations like Paign to Peace and the Champaign County Anti-Racist Coalition, he’s gone beyond marches to bring needed services to the community.

LGBTQ Faith Based Allies

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McKinley Presbyterian Church has proved itself to be a pillar of the community in Champaign-Urbana ever since the middle of the 20th century, with its presence in protests around the country ranging from civil rights Selma to demonstrations against the Vietnam war right here on campus. Naturally, these stances progressed to the open support of gay people, dating back as early as 1977. Since then, its  involvement with the LGBTQ community was a much needed bastion for the queer community, not only in a religious context, but as a place where they could gather to feel safe. McKinley was, and still is, a place where members of the queer community can socialize and belong, as there were not many safe or healthy places for people to socialize without being forced to do what they were not comfortable with. McKinley provided an outlet, not only for people to express themselves through the environment they fostered and the events they produced to help people, but as a way for queer people to reach out to others who might be looking for somewhere they feel like they can belong, or a place they can feel safe. With the sponsorship of organizations like Amasong and the CU Gay Men’s Chorus, it’s obvious that McKinley has, and continues to play an important role in the growth and the foundation of the queer community in Urbana-Champaign.

University of Illinois has been home to many faith based institutions in its history. Throughout the years, there have been organizations such as Illini Hillel, Chapel of St. John the Divine, and examples of faith-affirming practices that have been offered at UIUC.

Media’s Effect on the Evolution of Drag

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In the late 1960s, especially after the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York, the LGBTQ+ community and activism began to gain mass coverage in the mainstream media that often-had negative effects on the LGBTQ+ community such as outing people who were photographed participating in the protests, giving the police a voice over the people, and ultimately painting the LGBTQ+ community in a negative and violent light.  

The Queen, a documentary on a drag queen beauty contest that took placed in New York City, was released all around the United States in 1968. The New York Times and other mainstream media outlets praised the film's "real" representation of the drag community, but larger gay organizations such as the Society for Individual Rights expressed how the film only deepened the divide between the gay and straight community as this depiction of homosexuality suggests that all LGBTQ+ community members are drag queens. The different responses to the portrayal of drag in the media help us understand the issues of division over the gender expectations of order LGBTQ+ organizations. 

Throughout the last decade, the drag community has been particularly increasingly present in mainstream media. Ru Paul's Drag Race and Dragula are just two of the popular television shows that explore the world of drag. They provide the drag community a platform within mainstream society... creating access to supplies that drag queens can utilize during performances. Today as drag breaks away from its isolation, there emerges specific makeup lines for drag performances. However, we have seen historically how the mainstream media can essentially create whatever narrative they want about groups of people, such as a drag community. These shows can sometimes exaggerate and manipulate situations for entertainment purposes that end up affecting the public perception of drag. The result, unfortunately, is that the drag community must work twice as hard to debunk the continuous stereotypes portrayed within mainstream media.  

Sense of Community within Drag

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The Champaign-Urbana Drag community has a long history of banding together... creating a community for those that often felt lost and unwelcome within the LGBTQ+ and Queer community. In Champaign-Urbana, a small number of bars and restaurants have served as havens for the drag community. However, with the closing of Chester Street, a popular bar for Queer folk and performers, it became apparent to many in the local drag and queer community that spaces that allow for networking and socializing are vital for the overall communities' well-being. The bar served as a place for LGBT members in the local Champaign-Urbana area for 30 years before permanently closing in 2017. After almost 4 years, the impact of C-street closing, and its legacy can still be felt in the stories and oral histories told by local LGBT members and queens. After C-Streets closing, local bar NOLAs and the Mexican restaurant, Fiesta Cafe, have been known to support local drag performers.  

In the LGBTQ+ community exists a smaller drag community.

Despite the challenges drag performers face in heteronormative society and at times, even within the LGBT community, they frequently find ways to support each other. Whether it is financial, emotional or social support queens' band together to aid each other. Types of support many queens would struggle to find elsewhere. The drag community maintains a particularly long and valiant history of protecting and nurturing their own. Often, established queens and kings will adopta rising drag queen into their lineage, otherwise known as a family. The surrounding areas contain 3 prominent drag families: the Carringtons, the ShareALikes, and the Manns. Everyone feels a part of the community, despite each drag queens different styles of performance that are unique and anything but the ordinary. Likewise, the drag community continuously bands together in support of each other, one example being Gigi Mayonae’s memorial. Queens frequently attempt to create an environment that fosters safety and growth.  

With the closure of C-Street and other gay bars, queens frequently must compete against each other within heteronormative spaces in order to perform. Despite the various factors that lead to divisions in the drag community, the various challenges queens and LGBT+ folks face from heteronormative society results in a tight knit community and family. Collaboration with allies creates more room for inclusion. However, “gay friendly spaces” does not mean that every patroon is accepting, or the management will take the performers and gay patroons seriously in face of threats concerning their safety. Sadly, with some venues the straight owners crave the financial opportunities that drag offers without considering the heavy implications with creating a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community.