NYC Gay Bar Under Fire After Drag Queen Honey Davenport Exposes Manager’s Racist Texts

You know what’s really bad for business? Racism.

Over the weekend, drag queen Honey Davenport appeared at New York’s Monster, a bar just across the street from the Stonewall Inn in the city’s Greenwich Village neighborhood. This week, her appearance was different, however: when Davenport took the stage, she announced that she would not be performing and instead, dropped the mic and exited stage right.

“Each and every Saturday, I close out the motherfucking show, so are y’all ready for me to give you a number tonight?” Davenport asked to screams from the crowd. “Unfortunately, ladies and gentlemen, you won’t be seeing me perform tonight, because yesterday and I want you guys to listen to this carefully, I’m going to make this really short and really sweet so we can get back to this dance party.”

She continued, “Yesterday, I was sent a message from the general manager telling me that the advertisement for this party looked like they were promoting an event for Black people and that that was bad for business. He said that the two dancers we had on our stage tonight had to be replaced with beautiful people.”

As Davenport continued, she began to cry and shake. “After six years of literally laying everything I have on the line on this stage, I can no longer do it. So thank you so much for your love and support, but I can’t do this here anymore.”

She finished, while dropping her mic, “If you don’t want my people at the party, we won’t be there.”

Davenport later posted screenshots of the text messages between DJ Mitch Ferrino and the bar’s general manager, Italo Lopez, on Facebook. The screenshots do not include a full image of the flyer, though they do include a small portion of it and the manager’s response.

My art has no home where my people are not welcome.

Posted by Honey Davenport on Saturday, September 29, 2018

The texts show Lopez saying the flyer “looks like we’re promoting black night,” which is “bad for business,” just as Davenport quoted.

In a statement to Out, Davenport said: “Taking this step away from a place that I had considered my home was terrifying, and it’s a huge comfort to know that my nightlife family has my back. I’m saddened by the stance that Italo (and in their refusal to respond, The Monster Bar) has taken but unfortunately, I’m not surprised by it. This happens everywhere. I had to speak up because I knew that not doing so would mean I was complicit in perpetuating these attitudes towards other artists. Other performers need to know that they don’t have to be mistreated. Our art has no home in a place where we are not respected. Not speaking up would be like saying ‘You just have to take this.’

Several people, including New York City council speaker Corey Johnson, tweeted their disgust with the texts at Monster Bar over the weekend.

In the wake of the news, some other drag queens have cancelled their appearances at Monster. Drag queen Emi Grate said in an email to Lopez, obtained by Out, that she would no longer appear there.

“Any space that is unwelcome and unappreciative to black folks, I refuse to do business and build community in,” Emi Grate wrote. “I had always considered the Monster a safe haven for queer people of color, and it is gravely disheartening to see your comments. A proper public apology is in order.”

INTO contacted Monster Bar for comment and will update when we hear back.

Monster Bar released a statement about the incident on their Facebook page on Monday morning. The bar said it was “deeply upset” by the text messages.

“We at The Monster are not going to make excuses,” the statement reads. “Rather, we are using this as an opportunity to learn and to ensure it doesn’t happen again. When any member of our staff does or says something insensitive, we know it reflects on all of us.”

The statement said all bar staff will be taking part in racial sensitivity training.

“In closing, and on behalf of The Monster, I am sorry. I can’t take away any of the negative feelings you may have about us as a result of this situation, but I can promise that it does not represent us in the past, present or future. We will use this experience to grow and ensure our words, our behavior and our advertising represent us all,” the bar wrote. The statement also said that Lopez had resigned from his post as general manager.

Monster Bar is the latest in a long line of bars exposed for racist behavior. In October 2016 in Philadelphia, video footage showing then-owner of iCandy Darryl DePiano using a racial slur to disparage Black patrons leaked. The incident spurred a months-long campaign to address racism in the Philadelphia Gayborhood.

A similar event to the Monster Bar incident happened in January 2017 at Washington, D.C.’s gay bar JR’s when a graphic designer commissioned with making an ad for the bar leaked a conversation where the bar’s manager asked for a Black man to be replaced on a flyer with a “hot white guy.”

The Rise of Trans Women Models Has Nothing To Do With ‘Socialization’

A record number of trans and non-binary models walked runways from New York to Paris during this season’s fashion shows, marking a larger, if tenuous, shift in the industry toward more inclusion and acceptance.

The Marc Jacobs and Prabal Gurung runways were graced with Dara Allen while model Teddy Quinlivan walked over a dozen shows for designers like Michael Kors, Chloe and Maison Margiela. The Marco Marco show in New York was especially notable. The designer cast the show with nothing but trans men and women and non-binary people, a global first and a stunning representation of the beauty and diversity of the trans community.

Trans icon and singer Laith Ashley was one of the models chosen to represent the designer’s sexy and over-the-top creations on the runway. Given his opportunity and visibility, it was disheartening to see him part his perfect lips and say the words “trans women who may have been socialized male.”  

During an interview with Mic Dispatch that seemingly dichotomizes the relationship between trans men and women, and suggests that there is some mystical force barring trans men from the hallowed halls of fashion campaigns and runways, editor Evan Ross Katz asks Ashley why trans men are underrepresented and trans women proportionally overrepresented in modeling.    

There’s a patently obvious answer: trans women are, on average, taller than cis women and usually have narrower hips and stronger bone structure — all benefits in modeling. Also, trans men are typically too short to meet the average male model height requirements. But that point seemed lost on Ashley, even though it is brought up later in the piece by Katz. That modeling is a exploitative industry based in the patriarchal commodification of women’s bodies (thus requiring increased female participation) escaped both men.

Instead, Laith articulated a line of thinking almost indistinguishable from an introduction to a White Feminism curriculum or a TERF tweet, collapsing all cis men and trans women (really all people who are assigned male at birth) into one homogenous, teeming mass, Ashley states that trans women “are taught to take up space, to be louder and more boisterous.” News to me.

Speaking for and about the trans community is a huge burden, and not everyone is up to the challenge. What Ashley said was incredibly ill-informed but we cannot ignore the platform he was given by Mic to disparage the lived experiences of trans women. And in the end, his statements only pit trans men and women against each other.

It’s not just modeling where trans women are more visible and take up more space. We’re also overrepresented in porn, sex work, prisons and morgues. More of our names are called during Trans Day of Remembrance, more of us are misgendered when we are murdered, more of us are harassed in bathrooms and gyms, marked as pedophiles and rapists. 

Visibility is not a privilege, and neither is a history of avowedly innocuous male socialization that purportedly offers us protection in our pasts and advantages in our presents. Having a painful past spun as a positive experience is not only insulting and ahistorical but seems like wish fulfillment on the part of Ashley, a fantasy of what his childhood could and should have been like.

Socialization applied to a certain assigned sex is not something that we passively receive; we are not lackadaisical bottoms in this exchange. We, in many ways, enact and police the behaviors of others; we learn how and when to apply pressure to those whose bodies and sensibilities are marked as deviant, as devious. We all learn to become what critical scholar and feminist theorist Sara Ahmed calls the “straightening rod.”   

Ashley here acts as a cis interloper, as a straightening rod, using our painful pasts as a cudgel when we step out of line, are too loud, take up too much space or are more successful. Too often, claiming any male behavior on the part of trans women is a technique designed to shame and silence, and it’s a technique that is borrowed wholesale from cis misogyny. 

Unfortunately, Ashley lacks the wherewithal to turn this analysis on himself or other trans masculine people, choosing instead a truncated argument. His own burgeoning music career, with accompanying blue-lit video, blurred visions of him grinding his hips into a lingerie clad cis woman (who is black with dark skin, thank heaven for small miracles) highlights the fallacy of this totalizing, immutable socialization he implicates upon trans women.

These are not the behaviors of someone who was successfully socialized as stereotypically female. These are not the behaviors of someone who was told to be quiet and internalized it.

Lacking nuance and sophistication is not a crime, and I cannot wholly blame Ashley for ingesting and regurgitating harmful and ignorant stereotypes in an effort to downplay the fact that the real reasons he hasn’t found more mainstream success is due to systems within modeling that require bodies to fit certain characteristics. Socialization has nothing to do with it, especially not that of models who have found more work.

There was an opportunity here for a context-sensitive discussion about the hyper-visibility of trans women and the ways in which trans men are obscured and removed from narratives (sometimes of their own volition), and that opportunity was missed.

Perhaps, in the hands of a more enlightened team, the interview would have been different, but allowing cis people to turn us against each other to compete for meager scraps of attention and affection is not the look.

‘Saturday Night Live’s Joke About Charlie Sheen and HIV Threw People With HIV Under the Bus

Saturday Night Live’s 2018 season premiere featured an HIV joke that’s straight outta the 1980s.

During the “Weekend Update” segment with Colin Jost and Michael Che, Che spoke about Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding his alleged assault of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. During the segment, Che was making a joke about Brett’s supposed alcoholism and, somehow, made people with HIV the butt of the joke.

“I don’t know if Mr. Kavanaugh actually has a history of assault or if he actually has a drinking problem, but I do know that he might,” Che said. “And you shouldn’t be on the Supreme Court if you might. You shouldn’t be on the People’s Court if you might.”

Che continued, “Sometimes ‘might’ is enough. I don’t want to pet your dog if he might bite me. I don’t want to leave you in my house if you might be a crackhead. I’m not going to have sex with you if you might have dated Charlie Sheen.”

Yikes, there’s a lot to unpack here. I don’t know why Che chose to compare Kavanaugh to a person living through the crack or HIV/AIDS epidemics, but here we are! A lot of people might say it’s never a good idea to drill down too hard into a joke, but I’m going to anyway.

Che’s joke wasn’t just about Charlie Sheen, who is probably now one of the most famous people living with HIV in the world. It was also about the fear of sleeping with someone who has slept with someone who has HIV — which is an outdated, scientifically unsound position to take. The joke probably won’t do Charlie Sheen himself great harm, but to those casual viewers of Saturday Night Live who are also not up on science, the joke reifies the worst stigmas against people living with HIV, namely that they are unworthy of love and physical affection.

Despite lots of awareness campaigns trying to teach people that people with HIV who are undetectable can’t transmit the virus, that message still hasn’t permeated the zeitgeist. Even worse, despite acknowledgement from officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that U=U is real, studies have shown that a lot of people still don’t believe it. One recent study in the Journal of the International AIDS Society showed that a disturbingly high amount — two-thirds — of HIV-negative gay men, or gay men who don’t know their status, believe that U=U as a statement is not completely accurate.

What is funny, unlike the SNL joke, is that SNL has tackled Sheen’s HIV status before, and with better results. In a 2015 episode, hosted by Matthew McConaughey, a fake TV game show called “Should You Chime In on This?” posited that you should not, in fact, chime in on Sheen’s disclosure of his HIV status. (A quick reminder that Sheen was forced to disclose his diagnosis before an expose on him was published the next day.)

Saturday Night Live has tackled HIV in the past and was able to joke about it with a bit more panache. Back in 1985, Madonna hosted the show’s season premiere and appeared in a skit about HIV stigma in which HIV-negative people who had a fear of potentially catching HIV through kissing were the skewered subjects.

You can watch that skit here.

The Problem With Preferences

When being called out for superficiality, people cling to the term “preference.” In most cases, people use the term out of context; they use it to justify and perpetuate damaging behavior.

It’s not unusual to surf through hookup apps and encounter bios reading, “No fats, fems or Asians. It’s just my preference.” This is the reason Grindr changed its Community Guidelines — to “build a kinder community.”

With the launch of Kindr, users with discriminatory bios are suspended. People argued that Grindr is violating their freedom of speech; others argued that they can no longer openly discuss their preferences.

However, a preference is simply enjoying something more than something else. Some people may prefer the color red to the color blue. Some people prefer Spongebob Squarepants to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Some people prefer chocolate ice cream to vanilla ice cream.

Preferring chocolate ice cream does not mean that someone will never enjoy a bowl of vanilla ice cream. Preferring Spongebob Squarepants to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles does not mean that someone will punch a hole through the television if the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is on.

In this case, preferring a Caucasian muscle twink does not mean that someone could never be into someone who is overweight and Black. Preferring a guy who is masculine does not mean that someone could never be into someone who is feminine. Therefore, “no fats, no femmes” bios are simply discriminatory and unnecessary. Treating people like they are non-negotiables is, essentially, the cause of systematic bigotry.

Furthermore, people should ask themselves why their preferences are what they are. Why do you prefer white guys to Black guys? Why do you prefer thinner guys to heavier guys? Why do you prefer gay cis men to gay trans men?

It’s crucial to continually question our desires. If your answers to any of the above questions are “I’m simply not interested in (one of the mentioned groups),” you owe it to yourself to explore why that is. Could you not be attracted to Black guys because you think they’re ugly? Or are you a racist? Do you not like feminine men because you internalize anti-queerness? Or do you simply think they’re all gross? Asking these questions will help reveal whether your preference is truly a preference — or if you’re just a superficial sack of shit.

There’s a reason for our preferences. Finding out the “why” usually helps with indicating whether our preferences are truly preferences — or if they’re lazy excuses to exclude people who are not conventionally attractive.

This rule goes both ways. I encounter many profiles where white men discriminate against other white men. “No whites. BBC only!” What’s the problem with that?

Well, users like that don’t see Black men as Black men — they see them as big black penises. Sexual conquests. Opportunities to quench their offensive fetishes. The same applies to black guys that only seek out White or Asian men. That is not a preference — that is a fetish.

Today, I challenge everyone to look up the definition of a “preference.” It’s not what many believe it to be.

Image via Getty

Over 50 Trans People Running For Congress As Brazil’s Anti-LGBTQ Presidential Candidate Leads Polls

Tiffany Abreu hopes to serve Brazilian voters something different this election cycle.

The 33-year-old volleyball player is running for a seat in the National Congress of Brazil after becoming the first-ever out transgender person to compete at the nationwide level in December 2017.

After transitioning in 2012, the twice-honored MVP won her right to play in Brazil’s Superliga, its top women’s volleyball league.

Although many opposed allowing Abreu to compete with other female athletes, a set of guidelines implemented by the International Olympic Committee in 2016 paved the way for her to participate. Trans women can play as long as the testosterone in their bloodstreams remains minimal, its current rules state.

Abreu highlighted her long journey toward making history in conversation with reporters during a campaign event.

“For 27 years, I’ve been consumed inside,” Abreu told the Agence France Presse wire service. “I wanted to make my transition when I was 12 or 13 years old because even from childhood, I knew I was a woman. But I lacked information, guidance and above all, hospitals where I could get the operation done.”

“I could not live in that body anymore,” she added. “I could not show that I was a man when I was a woman. I couldn’t stand feeling ashamed of myself.”

The athlete is campaigning against the backdrop of Brazil’s increasingly contentious presidential election, in which the far-right Jair Bolsonaro leads in the polls. After being stabbed at a campaign event in September, he led all challengers by 13 percentage points in subsequent opinion surveys.

Bolsonaro is widely backed by evangelicals, who make up one-quarter of voters in Brazil.

The candidate’s infamously anti-LGBTQ, misogynistic views have led to widespread protests in Brazil. On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of women marched in demonstrations across the country that recalled the 2017 Women’s Marches following President Donald Trump’s inauguration in the United States.

“Not him,” chanted critics of his candidacy.

The 63-year-old once told Playboy Brazil that he “would rather that my son died” than have a gay child. Bolsonaro dismissed the extremely high rate of hate crimes against LGBTQ people, saying queer and trans people are murdered as a result of “prostitution or even killed by their own partners.”

Reports estimate 387 queer or trans individuals were murdered in Brazil last year. On average, an LGBTQ Brazilian is killed every day.

But as Abreu’s campaign shows, transgender candidates have responded to Brazil’s crises of democracy and violence by working to improve society. At least 50 trans people have announced their intention to run for office in 2018 — a more than tenfold increase from last year’s election cycle. In 2017, just five threw their hat in the ring.

Of these candidates, 33 are running for Congress, while 17 are seeking seats in state legislatures.

While the fact of Abreu’s gender identity has yet to garner much controversy ahead of the October elections, it’s her choice of party that has ruffled the most feathers. She is campaigning for a seat in Congress as a member of the center-right Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB).

Most LGBTQ political candidates in South America’s most populous nation are aligned with the progressive Workers’ Party.

News reports claim her political affiliations are an extension of her sporting career. Abreu’s volleyball club, Volei Bauru, is “sponsored by industries that support the MDB,” according to the Venezuela-based news network teleSUR TV.

The candidate has further dismissed criticism of her support for the MDB, whose most prominent leader is Brazil’s scandal-plagued president, Michel Temer.

“I don’t give any importance to parties, but to people,” Abreu said.

The elections will be held Oct. 7.

Kiss My Astro: Your October Horoscope

October is the time to collectively slow our rolls. Venus in retrograde this month (from October 5th – November 16th) means relationships are up for review. Missing an ex-lover? It could be the right time to reconnect. Still mad at an ex-friend? Now might be the time for some closure. Unsure where you’re headed in your current relationship? Reassessing what you want and what’s changed since last year can be hella fruitful right now. It’s less advisable to make major relationship decisions (moving in together, their name tattooed on your knuckles, etc.) during this time. Venus in Scorpio can be a little extra brutal, so make sure you fight cleanly if you have grievances to air, and expect some fierce sparks if you reconnect with someone you’ve been wanting back in your life.

Aries

It’s almost a cliché that you can feel trapped in committed relationships, but it’s not that you don’t want love—you just can’t be happy in any relationship that’s gotten stale and boring. Use Venus retrograde as a time to reclaim your own desires and sense of adventure—ideally without breaking any hearts. It doesn’t have to be either/or; you’re looking for the kind of love that will stand by you as you change and learn and grow.

Taurus

Some call it stubbornness, some call it pride, those who love you most call it strength and perseverance—whatever you want to call it, you have the ability to keep going on the path you’ve chosen for a long, long time. When months like this come along, where there’s the pressure to reassess your decisions, it can threaten your entire sense of self. Never fear; what you’re learning right now is worth knowing, and you can act on it as slowly as you need to.

Gemini

Oh darling, you’ve got so much sparkle to bring to the party but this month strands you at home, cleaning up while everyone else hits the clubs. It’s not the worst fate, though. You may even be grateful for some time to tend to yourself, tend to your own life, and get your affairs in order. Your future is still full of bright possibilities; you just need to spend some time sorting through the messes of reality first. Once you have, you’ll be making better choices than you ever have about who’s worth your time.

Cancer

You can get it right now, and the question is only—should you? You’re giving off luscious and sultry vibes, but what you want from the world is both excitement and security at the same time. Practice asking for exactly what you want, even if it seems petulant or contradictory. Practice listening to exactly what someone has to offer, especially if they use the phrases, “you deserve better” (you do) or “I’m not sure what I want” (you don’t have to solve that for them). Choose wisely. Take your time. Bestow your graces only when you feel that enthusiastic “YES” and not a tepid “maybe.”

Leo

Sometimes we need to sit out an inning, or even a whole game. There’s no shame in letting an injury heal, and this is a month when you have a beautiful opportunity to heal something that’s hurt you for a long time. Whether it’s from your family, your adolescence, an old relationship, or just the current state of the world, your mission right now is to let that pain move through you and let it go. I know it’s not the sexiest assignment, but believe me that when you learn this skill you’re also learning how to connect to a lover from a place of courageous, honest intimacy that is hotter than any bravado.

Virgo

We’re all shaped by our environments, and you may find yourself looking around right now and wondering: Who the hell chose those curtains? Who chose this music? Who are all these people, anyway? You may get nostalgic for days of yore when your friends seemed cooler, your haircut hipper, your taste in books more cutting edge—but really, what’s happening is you’re noticing how you’ve been growing away from the past. The answer isn’t to return to a past version of your life, it’s to think more clearly about the present moment. What can you change in your environment now to help you feel more aligned with who you’re trying to become? Who do you know who can help you hold this vision?

Libra

This is your time to shine, but even as you’ve got that extra sparkle in your eye you’re also navigating a tricky time. You want to go full steam ahead, but you may get pulled up short by fears about trust. If you can face these anxieties and work through them, this month will help you grow by leaps and bounds. Remember that you’re stronger than you think, and that you are loved far more than you realize. Focus on what you have when you’re afraid of what you might be missing.

Scorpio

You are probably well aware of the times you’ve lost your power to a relationship—if you become obsessed with pleasing someone, or take on their opinions as your own. Even anger or jealousy are ways of giving away your power, as you get fixated on making someone else as unhappy as you are—or at least want them to understand you and apologize. Both these states leave you unable to connect with what is most miraculous and beautiful in your own life. Getting stuck in them is tragic for you, most of all. This month offers you the chance to get majorly unstuck from anything you’ve been holding onto as a hope or a grudge. Reclaim your right to be happy, to be self-directed, and to live the life of your dreams.

Sagittarius

This month is all about the difference between fantasy and reality. Sometimes our fantasies help us understand what’s missing in our real lives that we need to go find; sometimes they just help us handle the constant dissatisfaction of being an imperfect human and dating other imperfect humans. Fantasies will give you important data right now, so let your mind drift when you can. What are you longing for? What does that tell you about what you don’t have? Are your fantasies blocking you from seeing what you do have? Find a way to enjoy the life you’re in while you figure out where you’d like to be next.

Capricorn

If you’ve lost your inspiration in life, this month is bending over backwards to help you retrace your steps and go find it again. When did you last feel optimistic? Expansive? Excited about being part of something much larger than yourself? Connected to someone who made you feel like you wanted to be a better person for them? Those connections are still there, if you take the time to look for them.

Aquarius

You’re on a roll right now, and while you’re busy crushing it the last thing you want is to stop and reassess your purpose in life and what it’s all for. Nevertheless. Something’s calling to you from the past right now and asking exactly that question. Notice what relationships help you pause and reflect on this situation, and which ones demand that you merely keep being impressive. Don’t waste your time on the ones that can’t give you some room to reflect and experiment. What you come up with afterwards will be worth it.

Pisces

It’s time to get centered, get grounded, and get serious about something really big that you want to do. Those first two steps are vitally important, though. Without them, you’re liable to just keep dreaming about it. This might mean needing a little more time alone than usual—at the very least, protect yourself from too much time with people who need you to listen to them but never listen, who want you to be like them, who don’t know what it means to stop and pay attention to your non-verbal cues. They may be charming, sexy, persuasive, exciting people—but they’re not doing you any favors right now. Make room for the ones who can support your vision, and begin by believing in yourself.

Chicago Is Building an AIDS Garden On the Lakefront Where Queer Community Once Flourished

It started in the days of blacked out bar windows, down by the lakefront, the sun burning through the afternoon. It was a place you could kiss in the daylight, where Lake Michigan met the skyline.

“It became a symbol of our right to be here, a right to exist, a right to gather,” remembers Chicago author and historian Owen Keehnen. “It was a huge step forward for gay liberation. I see how important the community building was that went on there, whether it was partying or group meetings or picnics or hookups or anything else you want to name. It really became a focal point for our community.”

From the 1970s to the 90s, queer Chicago got drunk, found love, mourned its dead and celebrated weddings it couldn’t legally hold at the Belmont Rocks, a stretch of limestone beachfront off the city’s gay neighborhood.

Little remains of the graffitied patchwork that hints at its storied past. But next year, that will change.

In early 2019, the city will break ground on AIDS Garden Chicago, a park that celebrates the historic site and honors a generation decimated by the virus.

The project is a longtime dream of the city’s first openly gay Alderman, Tom Tunney, who spent 13 years trying to get it funded during the recession.

“Those plans were laid on a bookshelf for a number of years,” said Tunney. “About 18 months ago, I said look, if we don’t do this and follow through on this, I don’t think the younger generation will do this.”

The younger generation likely never saw the rocks, painted with remembrances for the dead and rainbow stripes for the living. For 30 years, the Belmont Rocks hosted rallies, late-night hookups, Saturday picnics and parties. For decades the city’s annual Black Pride event was held there.

When the AIDS epidemic began to consume Chicago’s queer community, people painted messages of mourning on the rocks.

Tunney, who owns Chicago’s Ann Sather restaurants, watched AIDS decimate his community. In 1985, he moved the restaurant’s Lakeview location into a former funeral home. The eatery served as a kind of ground zero for community activism and memorializing as the virus ravaged the community.

“People have short memories, maybe,” said Tunney. “I don’t. It was devastating for the community. There were one or two individuals that I knew from the community dying every week.”

The AIDS crisis changed the rocks from a lively open-air spectacle to a marker of time, a physical homage to the many queer people who vanished during that time.

“It turned this carefree life into something different,” recalled Keehnen. “That’s a huge loss, and an AIDS garden would be a huge step in healing that.”

In 2003, the rocks were bulldozed by the Army Corps of Engineers for a project to prevent erosion. A handful of the graffitied blocks were salvaged, but the current lakefront stands in stark contrast to its colorful past.

Last year, Keehnen revisited the site and was rattled by how vacant and nondescript it was.

“What I saw was the disappearance of that part of our history,” said Keehnen.

Over the last year, Keehnen has gathered stories about the Rocks on a Facebook page, A Place for Us: LGBTQ Life at the Belmont Rocks. He plans to publish those memories in an upcoming anthology.

But the building of a physical AIDS garden that memorializes the rocks and the vibrant history the virus stole is a triumph so big that Keehnen is afraid to talk about it for fear of jeopardizing its success.

The $1 million project will stretch over 2.5 acres between Belmont and Diversey Harbors. The garden has the blessing of the City and funding from the Chicago Parks Foundation. Last week, to much fanfare, the City announced that the Keith Haring Foundation had donated a sculpture by the renowned late artist.

“Keith Haring’s Self-Portrait finds its rightful home at AIDS Garden Chicago, where it will serve as a point of reflection and a place of discussion for all Chicagoans,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a statement. “This sculpture is one of the many ways we are bringing the conversation around AIDS to the forefront to ensure that Chicagoans are better able to live long, healthy, well-rounded lives.”

For Keehnen, whose dreams of honoring the Belmont Rocks started with a simple scrapbook, the AIDS Garden is more than just a wistful nod back. It’s the chance to give young people a sense of belonging to this community that lived and died and partied by the lake before that was sanctioned.

“My whole goal in doing LGBTQ history for the most part has just been to help preserve the things that don’t make headlines,” said Keehnen. “The things that defined day-to-day life, maybe more than the huge occurrences. But in a lot of ways they’re more what life’s about, you know?”

Photos courtesy of the Facebook page “A Place for US: LGBTQ Life at the Belmont Rocks.”