Members of the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Evanston Pride gathered with other community members at Few Spirits, 918 Chicago Ave., the evening of Oct. 11 to celebrate National Coming Out Day.

More than a dozen people of varying ages attended the event, which organizers intended as a “safe space” where participants could speak and ask questions without fear of judgment. As such, they asked those in attendance not to share the identities of the speakers nor the details of their stories publicly.

Evanston Pride President Jackson Adams said he was pleased with the turnout, especially since it occurred in the middle of a downpour. 

“I don’t think we had any expectations going into it, especially since this was our first year of doing anything [for Coming Out Day],” Adams said. But he felt the event was “honest and real. People were really engaged, and I walked away [learning about] some commonalities between us. At the same time the diversity that was there was so cool.” 

Few Spirits Manager Lolo McGrath, left, is seen with (from left) Jackson Adams, Tom Pasker and Patty Finley of Evanston Pride. (Photo by Matt Simonette)

National Coming Out Day has been a widely observed event within the LGBTQ+ community since the late ‘80s, and marks the anniversary of the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

Adams said that the Evanston Pride board was trying to determine how to mark Coming Out Day, just when they were contacted by Few Spirits Manager Lolo McGrath. 

“It fell into place,” Adams said. “When we saw the storm, we thought we would just get a handful of people. But people just kept coming in.” 

Adams said that Evanston Pride was born from a question he and a number of fellow Evanstonians had a few years back: “Why don’t we have any Pride-anything in Evanston? Where are our people?”

The organization organized a number of events throughout 2021, including a makeshift drive-by Pride Parade in June. Adams said that, by virtue of being led by volunteers with limited time and resources, Evanston Pride is on an “event-by-event” schedule.

“Anything that we do amazes me,” he added. “I think that there was a great need for this organization. … I’m starting to find that we’re here to bring the community together, to be a sounding board for the community, and to help find services. We’re really organically forming.”

Evanston Pride did an extensive survey last Spring to poll Evanstonians on what kind of programming they would like to see the organization tackle. The LGBTQ+ community intersects with numerous other constituencies in terms of race, financial status, ability, gender expression and myriad other categories. Those considerations were taken into account during the planning for Coming Out Day. 

“Part of making the event family-friendly was that there is a huge focus on youth,” Adams said. “We always want to keep involved. Education is very important as well. The fact that we did do storytelling, stories of coming out, is very important. We should never stop telling them.”

Continuously telling and reflecting on those stories, he said, is key for LGBTQ+ community members to achieve both liberation and awareness.

“I’m a kid from a cornfield in Indiana,” Adams said. “I never imagined all the things associated with coming out. But we continue to tell these stories, so people don’t forget.”