A teaser and website for the new film Art and Pep was just released, giving a first glimpse into the documentary that will feature the life and love of LGBTQ+ civil rights leaders, Art Johnston and José Pepe Peña, owners of the iconic Sidetrack bar in Chicago.
For more than 40 years, Johnston and Peña have been a driving force behind LGBTQ+ equality in the heart of the country, with their bar fueling movements and creating community in Chicago’s northside queer enclave.
Behind the business and their historic activism exists a love unlike any other. The film, slated to be released in 2022, tells the inspiring story of the long struggle for equality and their fight for everyone to love freely. More information on the documentary can be found at www.artandpep.org,
“The LGBTQ community is able to live openly and display their love and commitment because of the queer pioneers that risked everything for equality. Art and Pep’s story is more than their bar or their battles to advance our rights – their story is our community’s living history,” said Kevin Hauswirth, Art and Pep executive producer. “Art and Pep will let families across the country see this gay love story as a great American love story, to see how far LGBTQ people had to come to simply be recognized, and how much further we still must go.”
After more than a year of production, principal photography was recently completed and filmmakers are moving into post-production. Supporters are invited to join a crowd-sourcing/crowd-funding campaign to gather archival footage and make financial contributions to support editing and distribution.
To date, filming has been made possible by the generous support of individual donors, a media sponsorship from Canon, and partnership from Gerber/Hart Library and Archives, The Center on Halsted, Howard Brown Health, The Legacy Project, WGN-TV, and Windy City Times.
“Art and Pep exemplifies the power of love. Because Art fell in love with Pep, he stayed in Chicago and they eventually opened Sidetrack, a space that allowed them to extend that love to the community,” said Art and Pep director Mercedes Kane. “Their love kept them alive, fighting for human rights and building the political clout needed to win. It was love that got them started and love that’s kept them going for over 45 years. As a director, it’s a dream to tell a love story of this magnitude with the potential to impact and inspire so many.”
Before Art Johnston co-founded Equality Illinois, the state’s oldest and largest civil rights organization representing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people, he was a school teacher visiting Chicago from Virginia. Despite the risks of bar raids and arrests, Art wandered into a small gay bar one evening in 1973 and became smitten with the bartender, Pepe Peña, a Cuban immigrant who came to Chicago after fleeing Cuba. They’ve been inseparable ever since.
“My family lives in a safer world because people like Art and Pep put themselves on the line and in harm’s way, willing to risk jail time, willing to risk physical assault, willing to risk the shame that came with standing up,” said Brian C. Johnson, Equality Illinois Chief Executive Officer. “I don’t know if I would have been as brave or as strong as them when
they decided to step into this work and step out to build a better world for us, but I’m thankful everyday that they did.”
In 1982, Art and Pep opened their own bar, Sidetrack, which grew to become a cornerstone of the Midwest’s LGBTQ community, a central organizing point through the AIDS crisis, and propelled them into a life dedicated to activism and political power from the LGBTQ community. Their love led them to open a business, become champions for equality, and now in their late seventies, they continue to fight in the battle for full equality.
“I think it’s so important that we tell our own stories, stories of hope and stories of conflict. It’s not always rosy and it’s not always easy. But, we are now standing in a period of time where we’ve seen the results of a lot of hard work,” said Art and Pep consulting producer Mary Morten. “This story does not begin and end in the queer community. Art and Pep have done a lot of work across so many different communities and civil rights issues.”