Quearborn & Perversionphoto of street signs


About the Film

The story arc of Quearborn & Perversion: An Early History of Lesbian & Gay Chicago is a fascinating chronicle that explores the beginning of the city's more tolerant speakeasy era filled with exotic female impersonators; the sex panic of the 1930's; establishing the nation's first organized homosexual-rights group by writer Henry Gerber; developing the strong underground social structure that sustained men and women in the 1940's and 1950's; the dawn of consciousness-raising entities such as the Daughters of Bilitus and Mattachine Midwest in the 1960's; and the strategic placing of a classified ad explicitly in search of a gay roommate by activist Henry Wiemhoff in the University of Chicago's college paper The Maroon that became the seed of the newly emerging Gay Liberation movement.

Quearborn & Perversion concludes in the early 1970's with the flashpoints of the first gay right's march (not yet identified as a parade), same-sex dances and the opening of the first community center. Did you know that the first gay rights ordinance was introduced to the Chicago City Council in 1974?

Among the collected interviews in Quearborn & Perversion: An Early History of Lesbian & Gay Chicago:

Auga Flanagan, one of the first lesbian bars owners, recollects carousing in taverns in the 1940's when the presumption was that if you were a female in a bar, you had to be a prostitute. No women's bar existed at the time. She shares her extensive collection of photos of women's social gatherings from the 1950's.

Legendary author Studs Terkel reminisces about his meetings with Pearl Hart, a pioneer attorney and devout friend of the community, when few, if any existed.

The late Valerie Taylor, poet and organizer, discusses her early talks to the Chicago chapter of the Daughters of Bilitus. Two African-American women reveal the racism they battled attempting to meld with their white sisters and subsequently formed their own social group, the Sons of Sappho.

Entrepreneur Chuck Renslow explains how his body builder photography business in the early 1950's eventually led him to opening Chicago's first leather bar, gay bathhouse, newspaper and eventually International Mr. Leather. He also produced short films of male erotica, circa 1963 Chicago. Excerpts from these films along with samples of his beefcake photography supplement his interview.

In addition to the universal themes of prejudice and subterfuge prevalent to Chicagoans living during this time, Quearborn & Perversion: An Early History of Lesbian & Gay Chicago explores the predominant influence of the "mob," the alleged corruption of the era's Chicago Police Department, and the racial divide between the predominantly African-American South Side and the exclusively white North Side.

Seemingly awash in the success of today's mainstreaming of lesbian and gay identity into popular culture: Modern lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities continue to battle for employment, healthcare, adoption, marriage and civil rights. These LGBT communities, paradoxically, face many of the same struggles illuminated by Quearborn & Perversion. The further time recedes from those repressed days, there is a growing portion of today's men and women realizing that all too many issues are the same. If fact, today's LGBT communities are painfully aware of those who wish to turn back the hands of time and progress.

By presenting this oral history of jail time, job loss and institutionalization (along with their sense of camaraderie, creativity and pride), Quearborn & Perversion explores, examines and honors these lesbian and gay Chicago pioneers. Taking impressive risks in the Midwest, they bravely lead a new political movement of equality in Chicago and changed the landscape of America's popular culture.

Quearborn & Perversion: An Early History of Lesbian & Gay Chicago is a unique film by documentary filmmaker Ron Pajak. While working his way through college as an evening bartender at one of Chicago's legendary gay bars, Ron was enthralled by the stories he heard about the city's history of underground gay life. At first he took notes and recorded the colorful stories of his customers. After time, he decided to document the early history of lesbian and gay Chicago and set about the creation of this documentary.

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