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Submitted by first-year SoonKyu Park

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a movie called Outing Riley, directed by Pete Jones. It came highly recommended by friends and by Netflix, and it was exciting to see a LGBTQ movie set in Chicago.

The movie is about Riley, a forty-something gay architect who lives in Chicago, and his struggles to come out to his Irish-Catholic family. Although the plot may seem predictable, Riley stands out from other gay men in the movies. He is completely at home with himself and with his sexuality. He has already come out to his friends and colleagues and is in a long-term relationship with his partner. He is not like the two cowboys in Brokeback Mountain and isn't flamboyant like Truman Capote in Capote. Instead, Riley looks, talks, and acts like an average Joe living in Chicago, just another guy obsessed with the Cubs and the Bears.

Many of the movie's differences can be attributed to the setting. Riley doesn't live in 1960s Wyoming or 1940s New York, where homophobia was still widespread, but rather in twenty-first-century Chicago. Outing Riley is a portrayal of a modern gay man who is rarely seen in mainstream media.

What made the movie especially memorable is the way it portrays Chicago. At the beginning of the movie, Riley introduces himself: "I've always imagined my life as a movie. The problem with my imagined movie is, it might be boring. I'd add helicopters. Helicopters make everything exciting. But nobody's going to believe I have helicopters....If I were a guy from L.A. or New York, well, maybe. But I'm just a guy from Chicago." To Riley, Chicago is a different type of city than L.A. or New York. But as the country's third largest city, Chicago has skyscrapers and is a major financial center, home to the Chicago Stock Exchange, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the Chicago Board of Trade, and its own professional sports teams.

So how is Chicago different from the other two? The director's answer seems to be that Chicago is more American than its two bigger sister cities. He believes that Chicagoans live "straight from the blueprint." They are born, go to school, get a job, get married, and have babies. Then they move to the suburbs, grow old, and die. If L.A. and New York are cities at the forefront of fashion and popular culture, then Chicago is the city of the average Joe.

When I think of New York, I imagine youngsters in chic clothes carrying "it bags." In contrast, Chicago reminds me of people in Levi's and sweatshirts. If I were to compare the two cities to alcoholic drinks, New York would be a martini and Chicago would be a local beer. New York is the city of Marc Jacobs and Donna Karan, and Chicago that of the Gap and Levi's. Such generalizations simplify things too much, and there are of course average Joes living in New York and fashionistas in Chicago. After all, Chicago also offers a rich cultural experience with its many immigrant neighborhoods such as Pilsen, Little Village, Chinatown, Little Italy, and the Ukrainian Village. And yet Chicago manages to maintain its identity, making the city a wonderful mixture of American and international culture.

Overall, the movie is delightful, filled with humorous episodes of Riley and his quirky brothers. The largely unknown cast shines, and the script is witty yet poignant. The film also takes you to numerous Chicago landmarks, including the Navy Pier, the Buckingham Fountain, the Lakeview neighborhood, and the lakeshore. I highly recommend the movie to anyone who interested in the city of Chicago or in LBGTQ culture--or both.

Students find treasures at the Brown Elephant

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The Brown Elephant is not your grandmother's thrift store. Located in the heart of Boystown, the shop sells everything from flower-printed ottomans to picture-frames and leather jackets. Their best items walk a fine line between shabby and chic, and would be absolute gems to find in any consignment outpost. But the Brown Elephant is consigning with a conscience--its proceeds go directly to the Howard Brown Health Center, the Midwest's largest healthcare provider dedicated to the LGBT community.

This social consciousness makes the Brown Elephant exactly the kind of place I want to shop, and the same should be said for other students looking for apartment furniture on the cheap or a fun place to hang out north of Hyde Park, too.

I forgot to bring my wallet with me last month when I volunteered to reorganize the store--an enormous warehouse bursting from ceiling to floor with sofas, trinkets, books and clothes--but you can bet I'm going back soon for one of the colorful (and cheap!) necklaces hanging at the check-out counter. 

Bradan Litzinger came to the store with me, and other members of our community service group, but he first visited the Brown Elephant in the Fall, looking for a Halloween costume. He was dressing as Jake Blues of the Blues Bros, and needed an inexpensive black tie and suit coat.

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    Bradan (right) and a friend pose in Blues Bros. costumes from the Brown Elephant thrift store

"It really wasn't that difficult to find those clothes," Bradan said, "but the Brown Elephant really has things that you wouldn't get anywhere else. I got a Yoda poster that was framed; it was pretty awesome. I go there when I want something that's a little bit unusual."

Of course, Bradan said it didn't hurt that the store was raising money for a great cause. The Howard Brown Health Center has been offering its services to Chicago's Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Transgender community since 1974. Now, they offer free, anonymous STD and HIV screenings, primary care services and substance abuse programs to more than 28,000 adults and youth each year.

Spending just a couple of dollars here can provide someone with a free flu shot or safe-sex kit. Maybe I don't need a cookbook dedicated to pizza recipes (my dorm room kitchen just isn't equipped), but I can't think of many better reasons to spend a little extra when my budget is tight.

Click here to read about the Center's interesting history, and founders--the Chicago Gay Medical Student's Association:

The Brown Elephant has three locations: Lakeview (3651 N. Halsted), Andersonville (5405 N. Clark), and Oak Park (217 Harrison). I took a bus to the one in Lakeview, and rode the red line home.

Where do you go for cool, thrift-store finds in Chicago?

Chicago's queer community is strong, colorful, active, and political. Pilsen hosted this year's Dyke March which drew  more than 1000 particpants. Howard Brown Health Centers provide a myriad of health and social services for queer individuals and families.  About Face Youth Theater provides professional-quality theater training to queer and allied youth, helping them develop and perform their narrativesCongregation Or Chadash provides a respectful and affirmative home for queer and allied Jews.  Hundreds of other organizations focus on the needs and accomplishments of every facet of the queer community.

With such a large and diverse community, it's no surprise that folks are protesting the recent slew of discriminatory legislation and ballot initiatives. Thousands of queer and allied folks will participate in the Chicago Against Proposition 8 rally tomorrow, November 15, from 12:30 to 3:30 in Federal Plaza at Dearborn and Adams.

Brian Normoyle puts it well:
Last Tuesday a very narrow majority of voters decided to make history again: California is now the first state in the nation to take away a currently existing civil right from a group of citizens. This national embarrassment by way of constitutional amendment is made all the more painful and unjust by the manner in which it was passed: the subjection of individual rights to a popular vote. Really? In America? In California!?
Please join us on Saturday as we fight for human rights!