About the Filmmaker
My name is Ron Pajak. Awesome Hero Inc. is my film and video company specializing in production, editing and training. After receiving my MFA in Film and Video, I have also been teaching at Columbia College, primarily in the Documentary Center. Additionally, with the Chicago History Museum as producing partner, I have been working on a feature documentary about the early history of Chicago's LGBT community.
My idea for this feature documentary sprang from my days as a graduate student tending bar at a local gay establishment that primarily catered to an older clientele. Listening to stories about "the olden days" captivated me. There was an epiphany when a gentleman told a story about Kitty Sheon's, a predecessor watering hole that also served an older crowd in the 1950's and 1960's. Kitty was the proprietress who ran a tight ship - no touching allowed. Despite the fact that her bar served as a haven for gay men, she would patrol the bar for any "shenanigans," an innocent hand on another man's arm, for example. Once spied, she would march up to the perpetrators, grab one man's wrist, remove the hand from the arm and place it gently back on the bar in front of him. The safety offered by a gay bar for gay men only extended freedom on a limited basis. It struck me - what kind of world was it back then for gay people? My quest began.
My mission: to uncover stories from men and women, black and white, about the lesbian and gay life of Chicagoans before any freedoms existed. The rich and textured history of this community has been all but ignored. This is unfortunate, because I have found an endless source of inspiration from the pioneers of this era, from Henry Gerber, who in 1924 incorporated America's first gay rights organization in Illinois to Alderman Clifford Kelly, who in 1974, introduced Chicago's first gay rights ordinance to the city council. During this time there were no social groups, no publications, no social visibility. Instinct and word of mouth is what sustained the gay community for decades before the fight for liberation began circa 1970.
I have conducted over 50 interviews and collected a vast amount of personal archives that include home movies, photos and assorted memorabilia. Since many Chicagoans have relocated, I traveled to San Francisco, New York, Arizona, Florida and New England to conduct interviews and to research at various LGBT archives. Editing has begun, assembling all of this into a feature documentary that will be screened at The Chicago History Museum.