In the wake of the recent controversy surrounding Boystown's Progress Bar, Lighthouse Church of Chicago UCC held a "Racial Justice Summit: Boystown & Beyond" event July 13 at Lincoln Park's St. Pauls United Church of Christ.
The packed event happened after a controversial internal email from Progress Bar owner Justin Romme that told DJs to stop playing rap music was made public on social media. What resulted were an outcry from LGBT activists, a June 2 protest across the street from the bar and demands from activiststo which Romme agreed.
Lighthouse Church of Chicago Founder Rev. Jamie Frazier spearheaded the event and gave the keynote address. He also announced the formation of the Lighthouse Foundation and its community-organizing arm, Coalition of Allies for Racial Justice ( CARE )of which he is the founder and board memberas a response to racism that occurs in Boystown and other Chicago neighborhoods.
According to the foundation's press release, it is a "non-sectarian, non-profit organization that will address the needs and advance equity and justice for the African American LGBTQ+ population throughout Chicagoland. The Lighthouse Foundation aims to empower African American LGBTQ+ people through entrepreneurship, empowerment, education and entertainment."
Frazier said "CARE will collaborate with allies organizing for [fair] treatment in Boystown and beyond."
Lighthouse Foundation member Edward Davis, St. Pauls United Church of Christ Senior Minister Matt Fitzgerald, Illinois Conference UCC Associate Conference Minister Rev. Dr. Vertie Powers ( who serves the Chicago Metropolitan Association of the UCC ) and Chicago Coalition of Welcoming Churches Rev. Jackie Beilile spoke ahead of the panel discussion that focused on the lived experiences of three Black LGBTQ people and their interactions with Boystown.
Davis said this summit was the culmination of multiple injustices against Black LGBTQ people in Boystown while Fitzgerald said he and his church has been glad to partner with Lighthouse over the years and with the new foundation.
Powers spoke about the UCC church being "a place of safety and sanctuary for all God's people and especially those who are hurt or wounded."
Beilile said "enough is enough" and explained that the need for visibility and connection is so important to LGBTQ people on the whole.
Moderator and Lighthouse Foundation member Karlyn Meyer led a discussion with panelists Lighthouse Foundation African American Trans Caucus Leader Lyric Lee, Lighthouse Foundation African American Lesbian and Bisexual Caucus Leader Alicia Lee and Lighthouse Foundation African American LGBTQ+ Entertainers Caucus Leader Cleo Pockalipps.
Meyer asked everyone what their level of comfort is with Boystown.
Alicia said she has heard from Black LGBTQ people who said they used to feel comfortable in Boystown but lately that is not the case because they feel profiled due to their race. She explained that it used to be easier to navigate the neighborhood at places like Belmont Rocks until it shuttered.
Lyric spoke about being a recent Chicago transplant from San Antonio, Texas, and her experiences since moving here. She said that, while working a second job in the area, some customers hurled anti-trans slurs at her; the managers allegedly did nothing about it, causing her to quit. Lyric explained that she cannot get from point A to point B anywhere in Chicago without worrying about her safety.
Pockalippsnoted as the Roscoe's Drag Race Reigning Champion and the first Black person to hold that titlespoke about performing at a variety of Halsted Street bars. She said recently Sidetrack made her the "All Things Beyonce" hostbut added that this came after years of her working harder for fewer opportunities. Pockalipps explained that progress overall is too slow for Black LGBTQ people, including being chosen as a performer at PrideFest and Northalsted Market Days. She spoke about the situation involving the Halsted Street store Beatnix's and its history of racism and anti-trans bigotry including selling Confederate flag merchandise and profiling certain customers based on their race and gender identity.
Frazier's keynote highlighted the Stonewall Uprising and the Black and Latinx LGBTQ people who led the fight, especially Marsha P. Johnson whose cause of death remains a question. He spoke about the 11 Black transgender women who have already been killed in the United States this year.
"Black LGBTQ folks recognize that we are the heirs of Marsha P. Johnson, the mother and midwife of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement," said Frazier. "We have come to challenge her beneficiaries, mainly white gay men, for our inheritance. Black LGBTQ folks+ demand justice, particularly here in Chicago."
Frazier spoke about the key issues the Foundation will be addressing including Beatnix ( a Boystown-area store that has had complaints of racism ), the Halsted Street parking ban, Walsh Security and the Center on Halsted ( the Center ). He said Walsh Security operated without a private contractor's license when the Center chose the company and its owner Thomas Walsh Sr., who was a Chicago Police Department ( CPD ) officer, was suspended from CPD in 2017 for beating a Black man and calling him the N-word. ( Center COO Kim Fountain attended the event. )
In terms of the Center, Frazier said the leadership there should end their business relationship with Walsh Security and do better outreach in the Black and Latinx LGBTQ communities.
"I am not interested in casual conversation. I am interested in community-driven demands," said Frazier.
Fitzgerald also spoke as a white ally alongside Ravenswood United Church of Christ Pastor Jason Coulter and Gather Church founder/pastor Tim Wolfe.
Fitzgerald said that white people should be better allies, adding that he met Frazier at a protest in front of the Moody Bible Institute president's office when the Nashville Statement ( an anti-LGBT ) evangelical Christian statement of faith ) was released while Coulter said "until everyone is free, no one is free."
Wolfe explained that his church is focused on "the reclamation of LGBTQ+ Christians who have been shunned and traumatized by faith." He said most people spend all their time studying and planning an issue but do not execute it or measure its successes and failures. Wolfe challenged everyone to execute plans and less time talking about them.
Frazier ended the event with a call for Black LGBTQ folks throughout Chicagoland to join Lighthouse Foundation through one of its seven caucuses that he said encompass the "full spectrum of the Black queer experience." He encouraged allies of Black LGBTQ people to join the Foundation's organizing arm, CARE.
Among the event's co-sponsors were the Chicago Coalition of Welcoming Churches and the Chicago Metropolitan Association of the UCC.
See www.facebook.com/lightfoundchi for more information on the Foundation.