“I think the future looks like queer history being the norm.”
Chicago organization Queer Riot strives to bring LGBTQ+ history directly to residents through “quality educational programs, workshops and trainings rooted in the history of LGBTQIA+ peoples.” The organization announced an internship program in January, which is focused on educating 100 high school students on queer history. This program, which is partnered with Gage Park Latinx Council, is one of the many initiatives that Queer Riot seeks to make regarding queer liberation and education in Chicago.
Queer Riot launched in January 2022 with the mission of connecting Chicago to the extensive history of LGBTQ+ figures and movements, and their contributions to the world. Founder Antonio Santos felt the need to directly bring LGBTQ+ education to businesses, organizations and people in his community. Connecting Chicago communities with queer history is Santos’ main motivation behind Queer Riot.
“Queer history is often an erased history. It’s often left out of the mainstream narrative,” Santos said. “I’m passionate about bringing [this history] to people where they are.”
Growing up queer and Latino on the Southwest Side of Chicago, Santos often felt isolated. While trying to learn more about himself and his queer identity, he found that information about LGBTQ+ issues was difficult to access.
For many queer kids, having access to media that represents them positively is an essential part of accepting one’s identity. A lack of representation not only aids in the homophobic beliefs that are ingrained in American society, but also asserts the belief that LGBTQ+ people only exist in subcultural spaces. Overall, this leads to important historical figures and movements being overlooked or erased completely.
“I’d go to the library in my neighborhood, and [LGBTQ+ books] weren’t available,” Santos said. “Obviously, I wasn’t going to special request them because that would out me.”
Years later, Santos did his own research into LGBTQ+ history while attending Loyola University and eventually worked in educational programming at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Gender and Sexuality Center. By combining his educational background, work experience and roots in Chicago’s Gage Park neighborhood, Queer Riot was born.
“I loved that I finally was working in a space where I was able to teach queer history and create queer programs. But I also knew that colleges can be exclusionary spaces, and so that was part of the motivation to start Queer Riot — and kind of have a more grassroots, on-the-ground approach to making this kind of information accessible to everybody,” said Santos.
Queer Riot was founded in Gage Park, a community that is 91.3% Hispanic or Latino, and where Santos currently lives. The internship program focuses on reaching students from communities on the Southwest Side.
“Oftentimes, these are communities that are most isolated from queer spaces,” Santos said.
Queer Riot is partnered with the Gage Park Latinx council, where Santos serves as executive director, and is being funded through a private grant from Chicago Beyond, a philanthropic organization that supports the betterment of Chicago youth. Chicago Beyond created this grant to fund an after-school program with a focus on queer education.
In December, the Gage Park Latinx council official Instagram page shared a photo of the raising of the progress flag. “We are going to fly this flag year round in Gage Park,” the post caption states. “Something we never saw growing up here.”
Because high schools are not always the safest place for queer-identified or questioning youth, Queer Riot raised awareness of the internship program by contacting trusted Chicago Public School educators, as well as utilizing social media to connect directly with the youth. This allows students who may not be openly queer in their communities to access information about the internship in a safer way.
Daniela Hernandez, who works in youth outreach at Queer Riot, was motivated to work with Queer Riot because of her own experiences as a queer Latina growing up in Chicago. Hernandez, who is studying Latinx Studies and Learning Sciences at Northwestern University, wants to help cultivate a safe space for queer youth through this program.
“[Some of] the learning outcomes of the program are developing an understanding of queer history from the years of 1890 to 1980, and [people of color], LGBTQIA+ [peoples’] contributions to social movements,” Hernandez said.
Queer Riot seeks to reach 100 students within the next year and help them become community leaders, educators and activists in queer liberation and education. According to a promotional post made by Queer Riot, “youth will leave the program with the skills and resources to become leaders in social change.”
Applications for the internship opened at the end of February and can be accessed through Queer Riot’s website. Applicants are welcome to apply throughout the remainder of 2022, as more opportunities for highschool aged students will come up for the summer and autumn. The spring session of the internship program begins April 30th with an orientation and intro workshop. The interns will engage in four other unique workshops throughout April and May.
Interns will participate in several workshops throughout the summer. After completing the workshops, the students will also have the opportunity to continue their work with GPLXC.
“It is a paid internship. And it’s pretty unique, because you’re getting paid to learn queer history, which is already something that’s kind of hard to come across. And so it’s been pretty well received,” Santos said.
Diego Garcia, one of the youth organizers at Queer Riot, is currently raising funds to host Friday night cookouts this summer. The cookouts, which will be hosted with the Chi Student Pandemic Response Group, will serve as engaging community events with food, music and games. The organizers chose to host these cookouts on Fridays in order to create a safe space for young people, as weekends often show a spike in violent crimes in Chicago.
“There’s a lack of safe spaces for youth in the community. So what we want to do is use what we have in the spaces we have like parks, playgrounds, and we’ll show up and we’ll bring music, free food, and just resources for the community to have access to once we’re there,” said Garcia. “We’re also just brainstorming to try to reimagine what safety looks like in our community.”
The cookouts will be open to people regardless of their sexuality or gender identity. “Queer Riot itself is meant to be an intentionally safe space for queer people, but the community cookouts that I’m working on are just gonna be open to the community,” said Garcia. “But I am excited to connect these queer youth to these cookouts.”
According to Santos, the future of Queer Riot is bright.
“We’re excited to get started, we’re excited that we’re launching this program that’s going to impact 100 youth,” he said. “I think the future looks like queer history being the norm.”
Header Image by Aylene Lopez