I was a little baby queer when I moved to Chicago last year.
I come from a traditional, cookie-cutter Connecticut town where Vineyard Vines and Sunday school were the standards. So, for a LatinX queer personwho existed exclusively in grungy, ripped jeans and Doc Martensthis environment was not very conducive to my mental health and personal growth. I also went to an all-girls Catholic high school and a Jesuit university. Yet, even with all of that straightness shoved down my throat, I was still (surprisingly) gay.
For me, moving to Chicago was one of the most liberating choices I made. Finally, I found a space to be myself fully. However, it didn't take long for me to notice the segregation in the city's LGBTQ+ community.
Before my arrival, I did some deep-dive research into Chicago's queer culture. Whenever I searched "Chicago LGBTQ+," most of the information that came up was about the North Side.
I learned about Boystown (obviously), Hamburger Mary's, the Center on Halsted, LGBTQ+ Legacy Walk, the Rogers Park area and Sidetrack nightclub. I saw how the Pride Parade route was mainly on the same street in Northalsted/Boystown and stopped just before Lincoln Park. The Google Image results about the Chicago LGBTQ+ community showed photo after photo of cis white men partying and I would sometimes come across a BIPOC drag queen, but those were few and far between.
Just from this Google search, I began to understand the inner, intersectional workings of the community as they were essentially laid out in front of me. It felt as if Google was trying to convince me that the only safe space for queer people in the entire city was on the North Side. In addition, many of these safe spaces were created by cis white gay men for other cis white gay men.
When I started reporting on LGBTQ+ issues in the city, I learned that I needed to specify the location if I wanted to research the community outside of Northalsted.
For example, I discovered Brave Space Alliance, one of the most well-known LGBTQ+ centers for queer people of color in Chicago, after I asked Google for "LGBTQ+ resources South Side."
Similarly, if I wanted to see Chicago's diverse Pride celebrations, I would have to use South Side as a keyword since a general search would lead me back to Northalsted. When I saw the photos and videos of South Side Pride, which began in 2019 and got canceled in 2020 because of COVID-19, it was all queer people of color dancing and partying. There were no cis white gay males in sight.
It was also easier to find information on the controversial renaming of Boystown than it was to find information on the numerous Black trans women who were murdered on the South and West sides.
For a community all about love, support and social justice, the Google results showed me otherwise.
To me, Chicago has two separate, segregated communities under the same rainbow flag, and the initial Google search makes it seem that white queer people are the best representatives of the city's diverse LGBTQ+ culture. The lack of Black and Brown bodies in a general search about Chicago's LGBTQ+ community shows how BIPOC queer people are othered and further pushes the narrative of segregation in the city.
It's something even a little new queer Chicago resident was able to piece together in a matter of a few clicks.
Cris Villalonga-Vivoni (they/them/theirs) is a queer, non-binary LatinX Chicago-based journalist focusing on LGBTQ+ social-justice issues. They have a bachelor's in English from Boston College and a master's in journalism from Northwestern University. They are an avid fan of video games, as they have clocked in more than 465 hours in Animal Crossing and 150 hours in Breath of the Wild. Cris is proud to have several animal nieces and nephews, and is affectionately known as "Zaza CV."
If you would like to contact them, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or slide into their DMs on Twitter @civillalonga.
Villalonga-Vivoni is one of the Field Foundation fellows writing for Windy City Times this fall.