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Take a Tour of the Nation's Historic LGBT Landmarks

09 Gerber Henry House 2

Henry Gerber House, Chicago

Henry Gerber (1892-1972) founded the nation's first gay rights group, the Society for Human Rights, in an apartment in this building in 1924. He had immigrated from Germany to the U.S. in 1913, but in a few years he found himself back in his native country, as part of the U.S. Army occupying forces after World War I. There he was exposed to the early work in gay liberation by Magnus Hirschfeld and others. Returning to Chicago, he sought to create a parallel movement in the U.S. The Society for Human Rights can also be credited with starting the nation's first gay publication, its newsletter, Friendship and Freedom. But the group had to disband in 1925, just eight months after its founding, as the wife of one of the members contacted a social worker, who then contacted police. The police raided Gerber's home and arrested him, along with several others, for "deviancy." The charges against Gerber were eventually dismissed, but he spent his life savings on his defense, and he lost his job with the postal service. He then moved to New York City and rejoined the Army, which was apparently willing to overlook his homosexuality, and served for 17 years. He continued helping his fellow gay men by connecting them through a letter-writing club and publishing numerous articles. He was named to the Chicago Gay and Lesbian (now LGBT) Hall of Fame, the only municipally supported institution of its kind, in 1992. The city's Gerber/Hart Library and Archives, the Midwest's largest circulating collection of LGBT material, is named for him and pioneering lesbian lawyer Pearl Hart. And in 2015 the National Park Service designated his Chicago home as a National Historic Landmark.


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