To the editors:

As one of the honorees, I’d be more discreet to keep modestly silent about the so-called flap [June 21] over a city Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame. Then again, if discretion were my strong suit, I wouldn’t have lasted for more than 25 years of sometimes risky and often pioneering gay rights activism.

“Silly and divisive” was what one of my columnist friends was quoted as calling the Hall of Fame idea. The words were apt–but only as a description of the criticism, not of the idea itself.

Except for a few media-savvy objectors, most lesbian and gay Chicagoans who are even aware of the matter probably feel mildly approving of the planned ceremony. They will correctly see it as an official symbolic recognition of their community’s achievements.

The lesbian and gay public may even note that some of the ceremony’s loudest critics didn’t shrink in the past from accepting awards by city government or private groups bent on honoring the critics’ own community contributions, charm, or both.

The difference here? Those with a grudge against City Hall want to depict the Hall of Fame event as a Daley diversionary tactic, so that they can compare its “silliness” to serious problems such as AIDS and homophobic violence that city government hasn’t solved yet.

Never mind that it would take a while to eradicate such scourges even with unlimited commitment and resources.

Nor that the Hall of Fame proposal originated not with Daley political operatives but with lesbian and gay activists.

Nor that those activists, though unpaid members of the city’s Advisory Council on Gay and Lesbian Issues (ACGLI), have notable histories of their own as organizers, political independents, and effective advocates.

Nor that they, and the lesbian and gay public generally (especially in Chicago!), are smart enough not to need carping lectures on how political manipulation can occur. All we have to do is look at the critics to see examples of it.

Never mind that, by trying to paint ACGLI members or honorees as stooges and the Hall of Fame plans as a stunt, the objectors muddy what could be a significant initiative for preserving Chicago gay and lesbian history as well as for building a community’s institutional structure.

By the objectors’ all-or-nothing logic, we should all drop everything else and concentrate on problems that matter the most. No one I know would minimize the gravity of AIDS, violence, and discrimination, or the unwillingness of society and government to combat them. Many of us have devoted much of our lives to such combat. But I’ll have to remind the objectors of their logic the next time I see any of them on Halsted Street or at a film festival.

Sociologists know of minority populations’ tendency toward infighting rather than successful social change. That’s a fact of life for the lesbian and gay minority, too, and there are well-known reasons for it. A mentality of ghettoization adds to the tendency.

A city-recognized Hall of Fame project is one small way to breach the ghetto wall while still strengthening community consciousness. To me, that’s not naive or visionary, but practical and worthwhile.

William B. Kelley

W. Hawthorne