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Community reacts to Boystown name change
by Matt Simonette

This article shared 2636 times since Sat Sep 26, 2020
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Northalsted Business Alliance ( NBA ) announced Sept. 23 that it would discontinue utilizing the term "Boystown" in its marketing of the area.

NBA's decision came shortly after a survey answered by 7,890 respondents found that, while 58% of them favored keeping the moniker, the majority of those identifying as lesbian, transgender, non-binary and queer wanted the change.

"To acknowledge and welcome all members of the LGBTQ+ community, the chamber will discontinue using the name Boystown in marketing and revert to the long standing-name Northalsted," said NBA officials on its website Sept. 24. "An accompanying slogan, 'Chicago's Proudest Neighborhood,' has been an addition since 2014."

Writer/activist Devlyn Camp—who, this past July, released a petition demanding the change of the Boystown name—applauded the decision, but called it only a "first step" toward needed changes among merchants there.

"I would like to see how Northalsted Business Alliance would continue to implement changes that actually reflect this name change, specifically inside these businesses," they said. "They have a long history of racist issues that often, but not always, trickle down from the management."

Merchants and residents in Lake View have long faced criticism indicating that youth, persons of color and other marginalized communities have been made to feel unwelcome while visiting the area. In mid-2019, activists protested against a club that had banned rap music—which they read as code for indicating that patrons of color were no longer welcome—as well as Center on Halsted's longtime use of a security firm whose owner had a history checkered with racist incidents. The Center has subsequently changed security firms.

Camp maintained that many of the business owners are reluctant to address issues that reflect poorly on themselves. Camp reported last summer that NBA cancelled three out of four scheduled diversity and inclusion trainings that they'd publicly announced, for example.

NBA spokesperson Jennifer Gordon said of Camp's assertion regarding the trainings, "The Northalsted Business Alliance had just started diversity training for members when the pandemic interrupted plans. Since the shutdown in March, Alliance members are feverishly focused on business survival. Diversity initiatives and, indeed, training are forthcoming."

Gordon added, "The NBA board welcomed a new member in August from Howard Brown, Dr. Robin Gay Stafford, who will also serve in the diversity committee."

Camp said that those who most vocally oppose change usually tend to be the loudest.

"If you go to a gay bar with 10 friends and three of them are trans and they're treated badly by management or other people in the neighborhood because they're trans, do you say, 'Get over it,' because seven of your friends are fine?" Camp said. "No. It shouldn't be about majority-rule, it should be about unity, because no one else is going to look out for the minorities within our own minority."

Camp said they will continue to push for diversity and inclusion training for both NBA members' management and staff: "We're still struggling with pronouns in these businesses, and that's 'years ago.' It's time to move on."

They also said violence de-escalation trainings were also needed, as were better representation from transgender and persons of color, among others, at NBA meetings, which they said could be accomplished by letting business employees who are members of those communities attend.

Pastor Jamie Frazier—who heads the Lighthouse Foundation, and whose work is centered mainly on Black LGBTQ persons and took part extensively in the summer 2019 actions—said NBA "doesn't just need a name change. They need a change of heart."

Frazier has long maintained that NBA has been unresponsive to overtures to jointly address structural racial issues in the neighborhood.

He added, "Lighthouse Foundation has reached out to the Northalsted Business Alliance numerous times. We are a Black, queer-led organization that does the work of racial justice. We have reached out to them and asked them to partner with us to create systemic change throughout the 'gayborhood.' What do they do instead? They put out their own survey. They changed the name and sought to put out a solution to a problem nobody asked for. This is yet again endemic of the ecology of white supremacy in Boystown."

Among community members opposing the change, Chicagoan David Fript saw NBA's announcement as a pivot both erasing LGBTQ history and a harbinger of gentrification, and started an online petition asking that NBA not proceed, further calling for a boycott of all NBA affairs.

"As always, the cover is that it is in our own interest; it is not," Fript wrote. "It is in the interest of those who want to make the neighborhood more like Lincoln Park and friendly to those people who are bothered by the name and the very visible presence of gay men, lesbians, and queer folk on the street. Changing the name to Northalsted does not do anything about the neighborhood being 'for the boys;' it makes the neighborhood safe for 'the straights.'"

The Boystown name emerged in the late '80s, but the neighborhood has long been the center of contributions from lesbian and transgender Chicagoans, among other LGBTQ community members.

A lesbian community center was located on the Halsted strip in the early '70s, and the Chicago Gay Crusader newspaper ( which reported on the entire LGBTQ community ) was headquartered there as well. Additionally, bars that primarily catered to, or were especially open to, lesbian patrons have included Ladybug, The Closet, and Augie & CK's.

This article shared 2636 times since Sat Sep 26, 2020
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