CHICAGO — As a child, Frencia Stephenson would visit the Ramsey County Historical Society in their hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota to dive into the archives.

Later, while studying at the School at the Art Institute of Chicago, they turned their passions for exploring the history of spaces and queer history into a thesis documenting the stories of Chicago’s LGBTQ+ elders. That research culminated in a new podcast, “We Are Everywhere,” where trans elders and LGBTQ+ elders of color discuss the spaces in Chicago that were important to them. 

You can listen to “We Are Everywhere” on Spotify here.

Stephenson chose to focus on trans and BIPOC elders because of the lack of available trans history. Stephenson also wanted to address the gap in how LGBTQ+ history is archived, which is primarily through the lens of white, cisgender gay men.

“I was also finding a lot of gay bars especially on the North Side had very racist door policies where they would require that mostly Black patrons had three forms of ID to get in and they wouldn’t do this for white patrons,” they say. 

They connected with most of their interviewees through the LGBTQ+ Intergenerational Dialogue Project, a collaboration between SAIC, the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Center on Halsted, where LGBTQ+ college students and elders 55 and older engage in conversation and community.

Phyllis Johnson, one of podcast’s guests, spoke about her experiences with Affinity Community Services and as a co-founder of Women of All Colors and Cultures Together.

“It’s nice to have a little memory-jogger like that,” Johnson said. “It was nice to think of my experiences having place.”

Credit: Vern Hester/Windy City Times
Members of Affinity Community Services host an open house in 2016.

Stephenson noticed themes across the interviews, particularly how queer people shut out of more mainstream hangouts in the bar and nightlife scene would create alternative spaces in response.

One of those spaces was Women of All Colors and Cultures Together, a monthly multiracial potluck brunch group for lesbians and queer women that began in 1994 as a way to connect and build community outside of the bar scene. 

The group survived for longer than many bars or nightlife spaces by traveling from home to home, Stephenson said. The group also inspired the founding of another important LGBTQ+ community group, Amigas Latinas

Women of All Colors and Cultures Together recently celebrated their 30th anniversary. The group has skewed primarily toward women 45 and older, but younger members attended the last meetup as well, Johnson said.

“I think that it’s going to sustain the group,” Johnson said. “I’m hoping that it helps foster continuing relationships through the generations and broadens out the cultural perspective of the group again. The big joy of WACT is getting to expand your horizons and your social circle, even if it’s just for the afternoon.”

“We Are Everywhere” also discusses the more complicated legacies of certain LGBTQ+ spaces and events.

In one episode, Stephenson and Juarez Hawkins discuss the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which ran from 1976 through 2015, and which Hawkins regularly attended. Stephenson wanted to do an episode about the festival to include examples of a gathering space outside of Chicago and how community is built around events, while also acknowledging the harm of the festival’s notorious policies excluding transgender people. 

“I think that’s just also being a part of LGBTQ, that you can hold a lot of simultaneous truths,” Stephenson said. 

Some of Stephenson’s research discussed how home and family lives could be tense, and Johnson said familial estrangement is still an issue for youth and elder members of the community. But many of Stephenson’s interviewees, particularly Black, queer elders, told them their parents practiced “the divine stewardship of parenting” and experienced love and acceptance from their families and communities.

Hawkins’s mother, for example, had friends who were trans or gender-non-conforming.

“I think it’s great to hear that even historically not everyone has had unsupportive parents,” Stephenson said. “It’s definitely something that a lot of LGBTQ people face even now, so hearing that even elders have had nicer experiences is good.” 

At its core, “We Are Everywhere” is a podcast of how LGBTQ+ people, particularly trans people and people of color, have always found ways to build community, Stephenson said.

Credit: Photos by Marcy J. Hochberg, image use courtesy of Windy City Times
Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival coverage in Windy City Times August 21, 1986.

“We Are Everywhere” shares a title with other LGBTQ+ history and mapping-related projects with the same name, most notably an LGBTQ+ history book by Leighton Brown and Matthew Riemer, who run the @lgbt_history Instagram account.

“It’s this declaration of space,” Stephenson said. “Chicago is a huge area and I want to say in this podcast that we’re not just in Boystown and Andersonville and the North Side, because that’s not true. We’re in every single corner. We’re in smaller family neighborhoods, we’re in the Far South Side, West Side, the suburbs, and queer people are everywhere and we will continue to be everywhere.” 

Stephenson plans to continue the podcast and is looking for a new cohort of interviewees of all age ranges. If LGBTQ+ Chicagoans ages 25 and older are interested in sharing their stories for future episodes, they can reach out to Stephenson via email at

“I’ve erased that age range because I don’t think you need to be a certain age to start telling your stories,” they said. “A big reason for that is that one of my friends passed away last year at 24. Older LGBT people know this, too — not everyone will survive to elderhood. You just don’t know who’s gonna make it.”

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