ANDERSONVILLE — Posters of local LGBTQ trailblazers like lesbian and women’s rights activist Vernita Gray line the front windows of the Bird Cage, an LGBTQ-inclusive restaurant and nightclub in Andersonville that reopens this month.
The posters are part of the Bird Cage’s Pride Month display, which transforms the business’ storefront at 5310 N. Clark St. into a mini LGBTQ history exhibit where people can walk up and learn about queer heroes from Chicago.
“I hope it adds some celebration to the neighborhood right now and inspires people who pass by and read about these heroes to go out and make a change in their own way,” Bird Cage owner Martin Cournane said.
The rainbow-colored display covers several of the Bird Cage’s front windows with images of local LGBTQ historical figures, along with their biographies. The images and information were supplied by the the Chicago LGBTQ Hall of Fame.
The exhibit highlights several figures, including Gray, who helped develop a hotline for Chicago’s gay and lesbian community in 1969; Antonia “Tata” Flores, founder of the the “Dykes on Bikes;” and chef Tania Callaway, who cooked meals at the Heartland Cafe in Rogers Park.
“We’re celebrating and bringing attention to all that the community has done, but also highlighting some of the work that still needs to be done,” Cournane said.
The display also features a memorial for Tiara Banks, a 24-year-old transgender woman fatally shot April 21.
“Yes, there is a lot to celebrate right now, but there’s a lot to be done, especially for our transgender community,” Cournane said. “Seeing some of the backlash our trans community is facing across the country, I thought it was important to bring all our community’s attention toward getting behind this hard fight for better.”
Cournane said it was important for him to highlight a diverse selection of LGBTQ heroes in the Bird Cage’s display. The business, which was previously upscale Mexican restaurant Octavio Cantina & Kitchen, rebranded last year as the Bird Cage when Cournane decided he wanted to create something more inclusive and LGBTQ-centric.
The Bird Cage is an adult-themed spot with a stage for performances, a DJ booth, massive disco balls and a “bondage wall” with sex toys and bondage gear on display as artwork. Murals throughout the club portray an array of burlesque dancers with diverse body types, genders and races — something Cournane said was important to him in creating an inclusive atmosphere.
The Bird Cage has been closed since October, when Chicago was being hit by a second wave of COVID-19, but it’s set to reopen June 24.
“Just in time for Pride weekend,” Cournane said.
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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