The assumptions we make about one another can have an enormous impact on the ways in which we interact. A person’s tattoos, their wheelchair, the short skirt, their skin color and their sexuality all shape our first impressions. It makes perfect sense that we would all make judgments on what we perceive. In some way, the packaging is a reflection on who they are.
But it isn’t everything.
Forest Park is a relatively small community with a population just shy of 16,000. Thankfully, we weren’t all cut from the same cloth. The diversity in this community is one of its strengths, and gives each of us the opportunity to learn something – about ourselves and those around us. Part of our job as the local newspaper is to spur those conversations along, so on our front page this week is the story of two business owners who are lesbians. October is Gay History Month and Tonya Hart and Cecilia Hardacker talked about being out in a small town with our contributing reporter, Bob Skolnik.
When it gets down to it, according to Hart and Hardacker, being gay isn’t what defines them or their business. And customers see it that way, too. Over the years they’ve tried other careers, lived in different parts of the country and seen friends come and go. Here in Forest Park, these women have been absolutely instrumental in bringing merchants together so that Madison Street is a destination. There is more to each of us than who we sleep with.
All of that said, there is almost always a compelling story in how any of us navigate life when, in some way, we are different.
The Forest Park Review is one of a handful of neighborhood newspapers published by Wednesday Journal Inc., a company that years ago made a commitment to writing about – and supporting – those differences. In fact, the story that Hart and Hardacker shared is part of a special section published this month called Coming Out, and it is devoted to the joys and the heartbreak experienced by the LGBT community in this area.
Last month, the Review devoted a similar special publication to social service agencies that work with people across all demographics in River Forest, Forest Park, Oak Park and other surrounding towns. People with physical and mental disabilities, the abused, the addicted, the lonely and the hungry are just as much a part of this community as anyone else. And like everyone else, their experiences give shape to their lives, but they cannot be summarized by whatever adjective has been assigned to their situation.
This newspaper, and the company as a whole, regularly wins awards for telling the stories of the community with all its nuances. It is the community, though, that makes the stories worth reading.