While not every business or attraction in Chicago makes an effort to welcome non-traditional families, there are many that do. From public art to museums to a nontraditional hair salon, here are a few spots that are particularly open to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning people and their families.
Family Friendly LGBT Chicago
When my kids, my spouse and I head out for the day in Chicago, we want to visit places that treat us like royalty. We’re an LGBT family. We’re special. We want a red carpet rolled out, horns to announce our arrival, and somebody to attend to our slightest need. Not really. We simply want to frequent places that welcome our nontraditional family as much as they entertain our children. Let’s face it, we’re taking our kids out of our house and into the public so they can make a mess there, not in our family room.
My suggestions for LGBTQ+ families to go when visiting Chicago include:
The Queerest Street in Chicago
North Halsted Street between Belmont Avenue and Grace Street, Chicago, is home to The Legacy Walk. This is the world’s only outdoor LGBT History Museum. The 35 rainbow statues with bronze memorial plagues jutting up along North Halsted Street identify the area as Chicago’s LGBT neighborhood.
Inspired by the Names Project AIDS Quilt in 1987, it took 25 years for the museum to become a reality. It’s here thanks to community members who believed LGBT history had been erased from the history books. The museum includes notable and diverse LGBT pioneers such as Civil Rights activist and entertainer Josephine Baker, English computer scientist and mathematician Alan Turing, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, Chinese-American physician Dr. Margaret Chung, and gay U.S. graffiti artist and social activist Keith Haring.
Why would a city as cold as the Arctic on many winter days build an outdoor museum? Chicago is a walking city. We go outside no matter the weather. From my first to my last child, I’ve walked everywhere with my kids in tow, even during our coldest months.
Whenever we visit North Halsted Street, my kids race from statue to statue. Each wants to be the first to read the name on the plague. The neighborhood is filled with restaurants and shops.
After your Legacy Walk tour, stop off at the socially conscience Chicago Diner where you can grab some comfort food without the meat. The diner’s slogan is “Meat-free since ’83”. This family-owned business proudly welcomes the LGBTQ+ community. Try a black bean burger and a vegan milkshake.Then head over to peruse the children’s book section at the Unabridged Bookstore . This tiny independent book store stocks a large collection of LGBTQ+ titles and supports LGBTQ+ authors. You might find a copy of my friend Jerome Pohlen’s book, Gay & Lesbian History for Kids: A Century Long Struggle for LGBT Rights. The book is a great way to revisit some of the folks included in the Legacy Walk.
My 12-year-old daughter, Ava, is always looking for ways to incorporate LGBT topics into her school work. She uses the Legacy Walk as a resource for school projects. Kids also can interact with the exhibit via a smartphone by scanning QR readers for more information
Schedule a guided walking tour to truly gain insight into the contributions LGBT people have made to our world. Kids tour for free. Check out the interactive map on the website, if you wish to self tour.
Andersonville: Chicago’s LGBT Welcoming Neighborhood
There’s something about the Northside Chicago neighborhood, Andersonville, that sets me off in a strut like John Travolta taking to the streets of Brooklyn in Saturday Night Fever. I don’t carry a paint can with me, but I am usually pushing a stroller. Andersonville is the most LGBTQ+ family-friendly neighborhood in the city. It’s the place to be seen if you are an LGBTQ family.
I feel like a proud peacock as my family and I move from block to block, visiting unique and locally-owned shops, keeping my eyes peeled for other LGBTQ families. Sure enough, there’s a family ordering a Pretzel Toffee Crunch at George’s Ice Cream & Sweets the same time we are indulging in a treat. Look! There goes another kid with two dads trying on a pair of Keens at Alamo Shoes.
When it’s a particularly slow day, I go for a sure thing—Women & Children First. This bookstore is the nesting place for queer families. Yap, it’s like a bee hanging out at the beehive. Plenty of LGBT families here. We ditch the kids in the children’s section and head for the lesbian erotica and Wicca sections because aren’t these the only topics us people like to read about anyway? OK, pre-kids we might have camped out in these sections, but now we come for the kids’ books.
This quaint bookstore opened in 1979 and has been LGBTQ+ welcoming ever since. The store stocks more than 30,000 books by and about women. There also are children’s books, and gay and lesbian titles. It’s one of the largest feminist bookstores in the country. The founders passed the torch to the new owners in 2014, but the inclusive attitude still rings true.
Families are invited to a story time every Wednesday morning from 10:30-11:00 performed by the store’s co-founder, Linda Bubon. The story time seating area is tight, with children and caregivers seated on a few cozy floor pillows. Be sure your 2- to 5-year-old is able to sit for the readings. Too much wiggling and moving around is not welcomed. My youngest hasn’t perfected the “sitting still skill” yet, so he’s been to only one story time. Linda does make sure she includes books to get kids moving at their seats. There is $1 suggested donation at the door.
Andersonville is also the host neighborhood for Midsommarfest in early June. It’s what I like to call “the gay-straight-alliance” of neighborhood festivals. It’s a smorgasbord of people all gathering in a 12-block radius. You got the single gays, the married gays, the muscle gays, the gay families, the mom & dad families, the people of color gays, the Swedish, the drag queens, the masculine presenting women, the lipstick lesbians, the Cubs baseball buddies, people with dogs, lots of people with dogs, and so much more. It’s the appetizer of festivals that kicks off Pride Month. Programming includes artisans and vendors, local food, music, dancing, and kids’ activities. We never miss this festival.
And, if I haven’t convinced you Andersonville is a cool neighborhood, take it from the artist PINK who once visited and said, “This f***ing neighborhood rocks.”
Pride on the Court: Chicago Sky Women’s Basketball
Chicago is a sports town. Fans pack stadiums to see the Cubs and White Sox play baseball, the Bulls play basketball, the Bears play football, and the Blackhawks play hockey—win or lose. But there’s one game in town that fields a roster of top-notch athletes capable of delivering game performances as fast-paced and exciting, if not more thrilling: the Chicago Sky.
Coming to town during May to October? Then don’t miss a Chicago Sky women’s basketball game at the Allstate Arena in northwest suburban Rosemont. The games are super kid-friendly and LGBT inclusive. The WNBA was the first professional sports league to recruit LGBT fans. Two years ago, the league adopted an LGBT pride initiative to celebrate diversity and inclusion, and to embrace (more like, capitalize on) its lesbian fan-base.
Individual teams began hosting Pride Night games during Pride Month in June. Sure, it was a marketing ploy. But it worked. Lesbian fans are easy to spot at a Sky game. They typically have the best seats as season-ticket holders.
During Sky Pride Night games, Sky Guy, the team’s mascot, waves a rainbow flag, a gay choir sings the National Anthem, Sky Pride t-shirts are sold, and there are rainbow give-away items.
The fact the league is LGBT family friendly makes going to the games that much sweeter for our family. Our kids are never bored. Aside from the athleticism on the court, Sky Guy entertains the crowd with acrobatic slam dunks during half-time. The jump-rope routines by the Sky Fly Kids are worth the price of admission alone while the Sky Drum Line keeps everyone hopping to their feet during intense game moments.
There are raffles, give-aways, free-throw contests, giant tricycle races, and free Sky t-shirts tossed into the audience. Kids can participate in on-court experiences. Ava once got to hang out court side pre-game watching her favorite players warm up while she waited to deliver the game ball to the referee center court.
This season, we even dragged along Grandma. She caught the Sky fever, hooting and hollering for WNBA league MVP and Olympic gold medalist, Elena Delle Donne. Grandma nearly broke a finger lunging for a free Sky t-shirt when a competitive fan (me) ripped it from her hands. Love makes a family.
The games have sparked interesting dinner conversation at our house as well. One topic being women in sports and pay inequity. Our 8-year-old child, Jaidon can’t wrap his head around why an athlete should be paid less for playing a professional sport simply for being female. Hmm, neither can I.
Ticket prices are reasonable and games are played at All-State Arena.
Looking for more LGBT-friendly sporting events? The Chicago Cubs Out at Wrigley Field takes place in September at Wrigley Field, 1060 W Addison St.
LGBTQ Child’s Play
I’m biased about this next fun spot. The Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier established an LGBTQ inclusion initiative way back in 2011 when same-sex families and LGBTQ rights weren’t so trendy.
Yep, a children’s museum slapped a rainbow triangle at its front entrance, provided thorough sensitivity training for its staff, and took a stand on welcoming LGBTQ people and their families. Why? Because, according to the museum’s policy, “CCM believes every family has the right to play and learn together without fear, discomfort or shame.” It’s what drew me into taking an unpaid internship at the museum for six months, and what led me to staying on as an advisor for its Diversity & Inclusion Committee.
Each May, CCM, one of the best children’s museums in the country, partners with Family Equality Council to celebrate International Family Equality Day. That is an official event that recognizes all family structures while providing visibility and support to LGBTQ families. Specific family programming is provided for LGBTQ families and continues throughout Pride Month in June.
Activities change from year-to-year, but past programming has included:
- inviting visitors to add colorful ribbons to the museum’s three-story staircase turning it into a giant rainbow
- sharing “What Makes a Family?” by writing answers on a chalkboard
- making family flags
- playing under a rainbow parachute
The Chicago Children’s Museum sets aside the Hospitality & Resource Room for families to meet, mingle, grab a snack, and collect resource materials. The room is easily identified by its rainbow signage and welcoming language. But all families are invited. My kids have had the honor of reading LGBTQ-friendly children’s books to guests who gather in the space to hear stories such as The Tale of Two Dads, I Am Jazz, and It’s Okay to Be Different.
Guests also enjoy live musical performances. My teacher friend debut an LGBTQ+ family-friendly song called Celebrate Love on International Family Equality Day. For the last two years, a transgender teen has performed original music about the importance of being yourself. Listen here.
The museum is considerate of gender expansive and nonconforming visitors. That’s why last year it took a brave step and added an “All Gender” bathroom sign at its facilities.
Another world-class attraction, the Brookfield Zoo in west suburban Brookfield, celebrates diversity in June with an official Pride Day. My family hasn’t attended that event, but we enjoy this world-renowned zoo.
Eat, Drink and Get a Haircut
When I first heard about Pickle’s Playroom, 2315 W Lawrence Ave., I was a bit skeptical. A place where your kid can get a haircut, then play in an indoor playground while you sip coffee, eat a sandwich, and chat with friends in a cafe didn’t seem like the best concept.
Who mixes food with hair? Didn’t sound sanitary. But I was wrong. Not only is the coffee and food tasty, the hairstylists actually cut kid hair the way you ask them. No extra inch off the top without asking, no crooked bangs and no bald patches. These scissor-packing kid haircutters have skills.
Instead of the coffee-clutching, perky mom hangout I thought it would be, I discovered Pickle’s Playroom is LGBT family friendly. The playroom sponsors LGBT family events like the 2016 Family Pride Fest (a day of play for LGBT families that takes place in a parking lot the day before the Chicago Pride Parade).
On our last visit to the playroom, I counted three two-mom families. When I pointed out to the receptionist the playroom should consider adding a rainbow flag sticker to the front window, she was very receptive. She motioned in the direction of the other two-mom families, saying, “Oh yes, we have lots of gay families.”
The topper is my 2-year-old loves the place. Grant it, he could be playing with the same toys in my living room for free, but we do not have a rock climbing wall leading to a bridge and giant slide.
After my 2-year-old and 8-year-old get haircuts, they head directly to the play space for 30 minutes of free playtime while my 12-year-old uses the free WiFi on her phone and reads her book in the cafe.
The whole family can grab a bite to eat from the cafe which offers panini and wraps for the adults. Kid food options include Nutella & banana sandwiches, PBJ, quesadillas, pizza melts, and more.
For us, when the stir-crazies kick in from being cooped up on winter days, Pickle’s Playroom is good place for the kids to burn off energy.
When Ava was 7, my sister passed away. The two had a special bond. It crushed Ava to no longer see or talk to her aunt. I’d find drawings and notes Ava had written to my sister tucked under her pillow and inside her school backpack.
One day, Ava came home from school with a Day of the Dead sugar skull she decorated in Spanish class. It was dripping with purple icing (my sister’s favorite color) and pink hearts. On the skull’s forehead, in bright blood red icing, Ava had written, “Auntie Lucy, I miss you.”
It tearfully reminded me of the Day of the Dead Sugar Skull demonstrations I’d seen at the National Museum of Mexican Art (NMA) held in October around the Day of the Dead Celebration. When Ava suggested the rest of our family decorate skulls in honor of Lucy, I booked time at NMA’s family art program held on Sundays.
The program is quite popular. Families gather in an art room to listen to the history and meaning behind the Day of the Dead and the significance of sugar skulls. Each person is then given a miniature sugar skull to decorate using brightly colored icing, sequence, beads, colored foil, and feathers. The experience truly mixes art and culture. Since then, sugar skull decorating has become an annual tradition for our family.
The National Museum of Mexican Art hosts the largest Day of the Dead celebration in the U.S. Visitors can create ofrendas (altars decorated in honor of a family’s ancestors) in a nearby soccer field, see altar demonstrations, enjoy Day of the Dead Bread (El pan de Muerto), hear musical performances, and participate in art activities.
Also, don’t miss out on touring the galleries of this culturally magnificent museum which houses a 10,000-permanent art collection.
NMA makes my list of LGBTQ friendly place because since 2004, the museum has been the host site for Queer Prom, a night where LGBTQ youth and allies celebrate without fear since high schools continue to restrict same-sex couples and transgender individuals from attending prom.
The National Museum of Mexican Art is also the only Chicago museum FREE to the public—every day. Call ahead 312-738-1503 to book at time slot for the sugar skull decorating, and for dates and times of Day of the Dead celebrations.
For a complete rundown on all things LGBTQ+ in Chicago, see Out! Chicago’s LGBTQ Visitors Guide published by the Windy City Times. And for weekly news and updates on the Chicago-area LGBT community, read the Windy City Times.
Read more about LGBT family friendliness here:
How to make your business or attraction more welcoming to LGBT families.
Where to celebrate diversity in Chicago.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Theresa Volpe is a children’s book author, LGBTQ+ family advocate and mother of three. She serves on the Board of Directors of One Million Kids for Equality which works to empower LGBTQ youth and the children of LGBTQ parents to share their stories for social and political change. She is Managing Editor for the online publication, ProudYouth. She is an advisor for the Chicago Children’s Museum’s LGBTQ Inclusion Initiative. Theresa, along with her wife Mercedes, were instrumental in the fight for marriage equality in Illinois. The Santos-Volpe family were plaintiff’s in the LAMBDA Legal lawsuit filed against the State of Illinois, and testified before the Illinois Senate in support of the Illinois Marriage Equality Bill.