Byron Stewart


1. Birthdate:


2. Birthplace:

Chicago, Illinois

3. City/state where you live currently:

Chicago, Illinois

4. Education:

Lincoln College, Associate of Arts Degree
Howard University, Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree

5. Careers:

Presently, I am owner, artistic director and co-founder of Dramatic Diversity; I am also the lead strategist and program designer for Dramatic Diversity.

Audiences have seen my work in many theatres, including Northlight, Black Ensemble, Pegasus, Court, Hartford Stage, and The Goodman. I received a Jeff citation (Lead Actor) for Slow Dance On The Killing Ground at Touchstone Theatre. I have been awarded a Black Theatre Alliance Award and an After Dark Award (Outstanding Performance) for my performance in the one-man show Conversation With A Diva, which was produced by A Real Read and the Bailiwick.

As artistic director and founder of A Real Read, Chicago's African-American LGBT performance ensemble, I have directed and performed in most of the ensemble's local performances and national tours. My poetry and prose have been published in BLACKlines, Venus, Kick, Malebox, and other periodicals.

I premiered my own one-man show, Manchild and Other Fierce Pieces, at San Francisco's Josie's Cabaret and Juice Joint.

As artistic director of School Street Movement, a school-based HIV prevention performance troupe, I directed and designed curriculum for all touring shows, including the Sex Police, a hip-hop dance play. I also created a program of children and adult acting classes at Joel Hall Dance Center.

In addition, I co-starred in the feature film How U Like Me Now, and am featured in and did casting for the award-winning made-for-television pilots, Kevin's Room I , II & III, produced by the Chicago Department of Public Health and Black Cat.

6. How do you describe your sexuality and your gender?

Gay Male

7. If you are GLBT, please describe when you first “knew:

It was during my early childhood. I always found other men interesting.

8. Who did you first “come out” to and when?

I first came out to my best friend Keith, who was also gay, in '78. I grew up in Evanston, Illinois and graduated from Evanston Township High School in '81. It wasn't a big deal for me during high school. When I came out to my mother, there was a lot of trouble; this was after my freshman year in college – the summer of ’81. She freaked out then and is still freaking out! I have always been in theater, where everyone is a little gay.

9. What troubles did you face as a GLBT person?

My mother has been the source of any problems I had being gay. She has a typical African-American perspective about homosexuality. My father is a different story; he is fine with it. (My mother and father divorced when I was six months.) He is from Kingston, Jamaica, and my mother is from Greenville, Mississippi. Go figure.

10. Did you have mentors in the Chicago GLBT community?

Brian Freedman, founder of Pomo Afro Homo, and Essex Hemphill.

11. List organizations (GLBT or mainstream) you have been involved in:

A Real Read (co-founder and artistic director)
Dramatic Diversity (co-founder, owner, artistic director, program designer, lead strategist)
School Street Movement (artistic director, curriculum designer)
Joel Hall Dance Center (creator of acting classes)
Gerber/Hart Library (board member)
Chicago Gay Games 2006 (board member, chair of Diversity Committee)
How U Like Me Now film (co-star)
Kevin’s Room I, II, & III (featured actor and casting director)

12. When you were coming out, what were your favorite Chicago GLBT bars?

I didn't go to bars when I first came out; I was too young. Later, I loved The Caboose, Rialto, Club La Ray, Pangea, Stop and Drink. I miss the Grant Park culture.

13. What were the key issues faced in the GLBT community when you first came out?

I was unaware of the "gay community" and its issues until my mid to late 20s, well after I came out.

14. What issues do you see as key in the GLBT community today?

Equal rights/protection under the law.

15. How have AIDS and/or other health issues impacted your life personally?

I have used theater to spread awareness and promote action around AIDS in communities of color. I think the diagnoses of AIDS have saved a lot of people’s lives.

Not everyone was a hero before his or her diagnosis.

16. How would you describe the “diversity” within the Chicago GLBT community?

The LGBT community faces the same challenges as the larger society when it comes to diversity. I think we need to look at the effects of self-segregation and homophobia in the Black community.

17. Describe what you feel your personal legacy is to the Chicago GLBT community.

I think A Real Read created some amazing people/projects that are still working for the LGBT community today.

18. This project is also about “defining moments.” Please discuss some of those in your life.

I was denied a role in college because of race; this was a huge moment for me.

Meeting my partner of 12 years.

A Real Read's run.

Working for School Street.

Meeting Brian Gregg.

Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City's Gay Community, the book is edited by Tracy Baim and features the contributions of more than 20 prominent historians and journalists. It is published by Surrey Books, an Agate imprint, and is hard cover, 224 pages, 4-color, with nearly 400 photos.
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