The things we take for granted. Oak Park is a racially diverse community. Oak Park is welcoming to lesbians and gays. Didn’t have to be that way. Wasn’t pre-ordained. Certainly wasn’t dictated by the marketplace.
The inclusion we have come to passively celebrate in Oak Park was intentional. From the mid-1960s when Open Housing advocates moved this issue from weekly protests outside the offices of local Realtors to first-in-the-nation legislation approved by a village board beset by fierce objections by thousands of residents. From 1989 when brave and forceful local lesbians and gays planted a flag for the civil and human rights of every Oak Parker as they formed the Oak Park Lesbian and Gay Association (OPALGA).
As our Stacey Sheridan reports today on the front page, the Oak Park River Forest Museum has connected again with its new exhibit on this fascinating and complex history as the evolving Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association+ marks its 30th anniversary. This exhibit in the historical society’s still new home at Lake and Lombard will run through the close of February. And it follows immediately on the heels of the powerful exhibit the museum mounted for the 50th anniversary of Open Housing in Oak Park.
The exhibit reminds us that there was strong and vocal opposition when a fledgling OPALGA organized to add sexual preference to the village’s Diversity Statement. That opposition, largely local, came from fundamentalist Christian churches in town. The opposition continued as the lesbian and gay group pushed adoption of a groundbreaking Domestic Partnership Registry at village hall.
In a year when expansion of the Diversity Statement to reflect racial equity led to intense debate and council chamber dramatics, we are reminded that social change is never guaranteed, that power is defended more often than it is shared.
Our villages are fortunate to have a local history museum ready and able to tell our stories with passion and nuance.