Gerber/Hart Library and Archives (Gerber/Hart) hosted a virtual screening of Disappeared: Chicago's Lost Lesbian Bars, a short-film documentary that Jacob Pieczynski directed. A panel discussion followed the screening.
The 2017 Reunion Chicago exhibit "Lost & Found: An Exhibit Exploring Chicago's Dyke Spaces of the '70s and '80s" curator, Ruby Western, served as moderator. Panelists included longtime Chicago LGBTQ activist and Executive Sweet leader Pat McCombs; Carla Harrigan, who was featured in the film; and Pieczynski.
The film examines why Chicago's lesbian bars have disappeared and the future of the scene. It features archival materials from Gerber/Hart, historian's insights and recollections from older lesbians who went to these now-shuttered bars.
Pieczynski said he started this project while he was still in his master's program at Loyola University, adding what sparked his interest was seeing an article talking about the demise of lesbian bars across the country. He added that, as his research moved forward, he felt he had more questions that needed to be answered. Because of deadlines and the fact that this film was a school project, he was unable to delve deeper into this subject.
Western said the film opens with a reference that these lesbian bars were a part of a secret society in Chicago, and asked Harrigan and McCombs what they remembered about hearing about these bars.
Harrigan said she does not remember when she heard about them but that she "immediately felt comfortable in those spaces," including The Closet (which is still around), where she would go after her 3 p.m.-to-midnight shift as a nurse. She added that those bars were a place to make friends and relax and it spurred her to find more and more lesbian spaces like The Ladybug, which was at 3445 N. Halsted St.
McCombs said she did not have any knowledge of these spaces when she first came out in college. She added that the first lesbian event she attended was hosted by the late Vernita Grayand said that opened a whole new world for her. McCombs said one thing she noticed was that, at most of the lesbian events she attended, there were few women of color in attendance; however, McCombs said she still felt comfortable since they all shared a lesbian identity. Still, she wanted to see more lesbians of color in these spaces.
Talking about Executive Sweet (a roaming party primarily for women of color), McCombs said it was formed because lesbian and bisexual women of color wanted to have a space that spoke to them that was absent from places like Augie's and CK's.
Western asked both women about non-bar lesbian spaces like Women and Children First and the now-defunct Mountain Moving Coffeehouse.
Harrigan said that Women and Children First has always been a refuge for her to feel comfortable asking the cashiers about things like lesbian sexuality and praised the new co-owners for their work to keep the bookstore open and thriving. She added that, a number of years ago, she was given space in the bookstore to sell her silk-screened T-shirts that she had left over from her booth at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival.
McComb echoed Harrigan's statement about Women and Children First and called it a "salvation" for her. She talked about the events she held at the bookstore, including poetry readings and skits. McCombs also praised Mountain Moving Coffeehouse, calling it "the place to be."
Regarding why lesbian bars have disappeared and the reasons why, Harrigan said that many lesbians, like herself, are now raising children so they are spending their money on themand not going out to the bars. McCombs said that all LGBTQ people want to be included in these spaces and might not want to go to an exclusively lesbian bar to hang out.
A Q&A session followed.
This event was connected with the 2019 Gerber/Hart's exhibit "Lavender Women & Killer Dykes: Lesbians, Feminism, and Community in Chicago." The Chicago Women's History Center is co-sponsoring it.
See jacobpieczynski.com/disappeared-chicago-s-lost-lesbian- .