WATCH: ‘That story went through me like a spear’: Founder, director of Legacy Project Chicago speaks about poignant inspiration behind it

legacy project
The Legacy Walk lies along North Halsted Street in Boystown, Chicago. (Ivy Fan/Medill)

By Ivy Fan
Medill Reports

The Legacy Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to honor the accomplishments of LGBTQ people around the world, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Watch the video to find out more about this award-winning work, including its history and a rocky personal journey of its founder, Victor Salvo. 

For the photos and clips in the video, the credit goes to

Video Transcript:

VICTOR SALVO: I lived through the worst of the AIDS epidemic, and all I could think of is if people in the world knew that people like Michelangelo and Eleanor Roosevelt and Josephine Baker and all these folks were part of the LGBTQ community, maybe they wouldn’t hate us so much, maybe they wouldn’t, they wouldn’t want us to die from this plague.

I am a survivor of multiple suicide attempts when I was a juvenile and teenager. And when I read the story of Alan Turing, and all he contributed to the world, and then that he was driven to suicide, that story went through me like a spear.

The idea came to us in 1987, at the National March on Washington, for what was at the time just lesbian and gay rights. And we were kind of struck by the fact that we’re participating in living history. And yet at the same time, none of us knew anything about our actual history. So that was when we started talking about we wish that there was some way to learn about it in school and never thinking that that would ever be an option. We figured, you know, if there could be memorials to people, then passersby and future gay people would be able to stop and read them the same way we read memorials about anybody.

BRIANNA VAN SHOYCK: I’ve worked here for five years, and I’ve always walked up and down Halsted. So I have lots of interactions with them. I don’t ever, like, really stop and read the plaques, per se. But yeah, I think they’re super important part of, like, queer history, and, like commemorating queer history and queer icons like that.

SALVO: The database contains all the people who will eventually be going up there, suggested just from people all over the world send us suggestions.

CLIP: Illinois, along with the city of Springfield congratulate the Legacy Walk and the LGBT Springfield community, and recognize the positive impact each individual and organization has had in our community and in the lives of the individuals and families that they have impacted and treating everybody equally.

SALVO: As any minority community knows, your history is really all you’ve got, your history and your culture. And you have to stick together and use that as your starting point. We didn’t even have our history, you know, we were basically cast to the wind and at the mercy of the dominant culture all along. For me, in working with youth today, I talked about my suicide attempts on our guided tours with schoolchildren, because as much as they’re on a field trip, and they’re having fun, and they’re with all their friends and they’re being all gay and everything, no one knows which one of those kids that night before was considering suicide.

Ivy Fan is a video/broadcast graduate student at Medill. You can follow her on Instagram at @lumiere_ivyfan