PALM SPRINGS – The faces of greatness representing an entire community that has been marginalized because of gender or sexual variance — the LGBTQ+ community — will be on display when The Legacy Wall makes its inaugural visit to this community for Palm Springs Pride.
The Legacy Wall is a unique traveling exhibit that features more than 125 “mini-biographies” of LGBT people from every walk of life throughout history. Its digitally interactive content is international and multicultural, and has been substantially vetted and sourced, according to Todd Burke of Palm Springs who is helping promote the Legacy Wall’s visit.
The S-shaped exhibit is about 24 feet long and 8 feet tall and has triggered an array emotional reactions from people wherever it is displayed. It has been exhibited in at least a dozen states and in numerous locations across Illinois where it is based.
This “wonderfully positive and inspiring exhibit” tells the stories behind such figures as Social Justice pioneer Jane Addams; Civil Rights organizer Bayard Rustin; Alan Turing; U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Jordan; Astronaut Sally Ride; Renaissance artist and inventor Leonardo DaVinci; Transgender icons Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson; Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, and Fr. Mychal Judge (the ‘Saint of 9/11”), Burke said.
If you, like so many others, were clueless about some of the above, don’t feel bad, there is a reason.
“That’s really the crux of the whole thing,” Victor Salvo told Uken Report. He is the founder and director of the Chicago-based Legacy Project. “We have been in most cases, intentionally redacted from history. Our personalities are there, but not the full measure of what our lives were. We are, by every measure, an extremely inconvenient truth. I personally think that every horror that’s ever been visited upon us as a community is a direct result of effectively being redacted from shared human history.”
His words are powerful, provocative, and bone-chilling.
“And, because in the absence of that information, we’re forced to be sort of a perpetual ‘other’,” Salvo continued. “Then what happens is people with an agenda, ascribe to you, whatever they choose to attach to you, which is where all this stereotype and mythology has come from that has followed this community and injured this community for centuries.”
“So, this kind of information, at the very least, starts conversations. When there are genuine conversations that’s when we’re changing things.”
The exhibit will be open to the public at no charge beginning Tuesday, Oct. 29 at The Bank, 383 S. Palm Canyon Drive. It will be on display throughout November. It will be at The Bank for the first half of the month then be disassembled and moved to the Palm Springs Public Library on Nov. 12 for the remainder of the month.
Plans are underway to bus in students from the three Coachella Valley school districts to experience the Legacy Wall and provide academic engagement around it.
“As an openly gay man for all my life, it’s just so exciting that the younger generation, the older generation, everyone — gay, straight, it doesn’t matter, is going to be able to really see a lot of the folks that shaped our history,” Burke said. “There are many things I did not know about folks I did not know.”
A group of Chicago residents who also own homes in Palm Springs are credited with starting the conversation to bring The Legacy Wall to the city. The group has been following the growth of the project over the years and once The Legacy Wall began its national tour a few years back, they started promoting the idea of bringing it to Palm Springs.
Salvo’s friend, Thomas R. Chiola, who introduced Salvo to Burke, came up with a game plan to bring the Legacy Wall to Palm Springs. Chiola served as a judge of the Illinois Circuit Court of Cook County from 1994 to 2009. He was the first openly gay person elected to public office in Illinois.
Efforts to bring The Legacy Wall to Palm Springs began in earnest in summer 2018 with broad one-distance outreach with the help of numerous local partners. After a year of preparations, about 125 people gathered in Palm Springs to hear the proposal directly from Salvo in April 2018.
“Money started flowing from that meeting forward to finance bringing it there,” Salvo said.
It will cost an estimated $50,000 to have The Legacy Wall in Palm Springs.
Normally when the Wall goes anywhere, a corporation, a cultural institution, university, civic group, or something of that nature rents it. They have a venue and they want to bring the Wall to their venue. In Palm Springs, there was a group of concerned people who wanted to bring the installation to Palm Springs, but there was no venue. So, organizers started from scratch. It’s an entirely different model for Salvo, he said.
Private citizens have donated a majority of the funds and The Legacy Wall had to raise “a good deal extra” than it normally would have to in order to rent a venue and provide some other perks that it normally doesn’t do. The effort is also supported by grant commitments from several local agencies including the hospitality industry, the convention and tourism industry, and Friends of the Palm Springs Public Library.
“It is just a much larger, much more complicated undertaking, but the end result will be the same,” Salvo said. “We see the Palm Springs opportunity as a game changer.”
One of the “cool” features of The Legacy Wall is that there is an interactive element to it. Every profile has a QR code that takes you to more in-depth information on that person to learn more. So, it can live well beyond your visit to the Wall in person. You will be able to save it to your phone. There is also an opportunity to watch video about the person you’re reading about and educational materials, which will be available for download.
“This is definitely going to appeal to young people as well who are already accustomed to finding out more information that way,” Salvo said.
Each person visiting the exhibit and interacting with it is likely to experience something different, but it is almost guaranteed to make you feel something. For some, it will be cathartic.
“I’ve seen people literally stand in front of it and weep just because they never thought they would live long enough to see so much information in one spot that was so overwhelming for them,” Salvo said. “For folks young and old, they’re going to learn things that they did not know. Knowledge is always a good thing. Hopefully, at the very least, it’ll give them a better sense of belonging to humanity’s story because that’s the part that all of us have been denied.”
There is a wealth of content on the wall that covers a broad spectrum of time and contributions. The content is international, which gives participants perspectives on myriad issues that emphasize the intersectionality of the LGBTQ+ community.
“It begins to really broaden our understanding of what it means to be part of this community, which at times in the absence of more robust information, we just sort of recused ourselves almost to caricatures sometimes,” Salvo said. “We don’t really have the full appreciation of not only how much we have done, but also how much of that what we have done has truly altered the world.”
That’s what Salvo hopes will grasp, feel and appreciate.
“I really want people to understand that this community is not an also-ran,” Salvo said, his voice rich with passion. “We’re not begging to be taken a little bit more seriously. We have more than earned our place at the table.
To illustrate his point, he points to the founder of NATO and the creator of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. They are gay men.
“These are the kinds of achievements that have vast repercussions on the history of the world,” Salvo said. “I think that those kinds of revelations are really going to give people something to think about because the one thing that comes back constantly, especially from the straight people who experience it, they just look at me and say, why weren’t we told? That’s what it comes down to. Why weren’t we told?”
“There’s a reason why people are not told. That’s to prevent sexual and gender variance from being associated with greatness.”
His fervent hope is that the information will inspire people to make their own connections to this history.
“I can assure you there’s not a single aspect of anything that’s ever been attempted or thought about that does not have an LGBTQ component to it,” Salvo said. “It really does emphasize, community and intersectionality and the broad spectrum — the many different colors and faces and shapes and sizes that we come in. It’s very exhilarating to do. I love seeing people’s reaction to it.”
- Victor Salvo: LinkedIn
- QR Code: Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
- Awestruck: The Legacy Project
- Legacy Wall: The Legacy Project