LAKEVIEW — For Don Bell, a 70-year-old Black gay man from the South Side, this year was Pride’s comeback.
The month opened amid the coronavirus pandemic and in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, which sparked massive protests. The usual Pride parades filled with corporate floats, advertisements and glad-handing politicians were scrapped. Instead, there were marches.
In Boystown, where Bell lives at Town Hall Apartments, an LGBTQ-friendly senior living facility run by the Center on Halsted, thousands of protesters marched past his home over the course of the month to demand racial justice and the demilitarization of police.
Bell would get a text alert notifying him a demonstration was approaching. Then, he’d hear the chants of “Black Lives Matter” echoing louder as people marched up the Boystown strip.
Bell would sit by his window, which overlooks Halsted, to watch, but his “heart and soul were in the streets” with each march.
“But I have thrown myself up and down Halsted enough in my lifetime, so I’m happy the youngsters are doing it now,” said Bell, a retired college administrator and lifelong activist. “I don’t see today as a new or separate movement from ours in the ’60s and ’70s. It’s a continuation.”
Bell said he went to his first Civil Rights protest at 13 years old in the early ’60s. He came into adulthood around the time the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion against police violence galvanized the LGBTQ liberation movement. Since then, the list of causes he champions has only grown.
While protesters marched outside, Bell spent all of June quarantining inside his apartment as a COVID-19 precaution. He took his activism digital by speaking on livestreamed panels for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and CJE SeniorLife.
“People haven’t noticed we old birds from the first movement are still here and actively participating to the best of our ability,” Bell said.
The massive, multicultural movement has made Bell proud, but he said the solidarity needs to stick for long-lasting change to occur.
“A lot of our allies in the ’60s and ’70s — particularly the straight white males — went from tie-dyed T-shirts and cutoff jeans to suits and cushy jobs on Wall Street or LaSalle,” Bell said. “I hope the young white allies today are making a true lifetime commitment.”
Bell said it has been “really sobering” for him to see young Black people fighting against “the same issues we experienced 50 years ago.”
“But the resolution to these issues cannot be accomplished in the span of one lifetime,” Bell said. “We need to pass the torch.”
Bell encouraged young activists to include their elders in current social justice movements.
“We want to complete our work to get rid of racism, sexism, heterosexism and classism,” Bell said. “We’ve lived with these issues a long time and can pass down our knowledge or experiences with them.”
Bell said the intersection of these massive protests with Pride Month has given him hope these issues will someday be resolved.
“This Pride has energized and taken me back 50 years to a period of idealism in my life before cynicism,” Bell said. “Maybe this is the time change happens. It’s long overdue.”
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.
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