From left: Benjamin Perry, Ed Negron, Darrell Gordon, Betty Akins.
Chicago—Editor’s note: News and Letters Committees hosted a forum in our Chicago office on Aug. 8 on the response within the Gay community to the Facebook page Take Back Boystown posting videos of Blacks fighting as a way to demonize “outsiders” coming to Gay institutions and bars. Below is part of the discussion among panelists and audience.
Ed Negron, AIDS Foundation of Chicago: It is unfortunate that certain incidents were caught on tape, but the silver lining is that the true racism and the true ageism that has always gone on in Boystown is now out in the public. The Gay community doesn’t like to air its dirty laundry, they did it unintentionally, but it’s not going to be brushed under the rug anymore.
Because of the internet, we can see in writing what people have been feeling about people of color and the younger generation. When I first came out in the early 1990s and raised these issues, people would say that’s just in your head, your internalized racism and homophobia. Now it is on Facebook.
Back when crystal meth was the big thing in the neighborhood, business owners were actually talking about hosing the youth off the front of their property. They really got up in arms: “Don’t even think about coming here.” The group Affinity is trying to build a youth center on the South Side. Would it help to gather our energies to support them, or would it sound to Take Back Boystown supporters like, fine, we’re leaving, we’re going somewhere else?
Darrell Gordon, Queer, Gay, anarchist activist: From an historical perspective, an openly African-American Queer bar on Halsted at Belmont opened in 1985. There was controversy from the start. It was closed in 1989 by then Alderman Bernie Hansen. The sentiment from Gay guys in Lakeview was that they were glad the bar was closed because then there would be fewer African-Americans around. The same type of force we’re talking about wants the Night Ministry, which hands out food and other material to youth, to move from the Lakeview neighborhood.
As the face of AIDS has changed, the interest among white Gay men around the AIDS issue in Lakeview has declined since the mid-1990s. We need to do more than just address the issue of racism in Lakeview. We also need to confront heterosexism and homophobia on the West and South Sides of Chicago and create meeting places for community and political organizing.
Benjamin Perry, Gender JUST: We are currently involved with Center on Halsted. We are trying to set up a better structure for them. I felt we were building a relationship with the Northalsted Business Alliance. We showed them how traveling is one of the biggest issues for the youth, because a lot of resources are on the North Side and we really don’t have a lot of resources on the South and West Sides.
They were receiving $50,000, and using it as they had for the past couple years for policing the youth. They could use the money in a better form like a jobs program, or some after-hours spot for the youth. They wonder why a lot of the youth go up and down the Lakeview-Boystown strip. It is because we do not have a place to go.
Darrell said that there had been African-American clubs in the area, and residents just went hooray, those clubs are gone, we don’t have to worry about them anymore. That kind of transitions to Take Back Boystown.
Betty Akins, formerly of Center on Halsted: I saw what was going on over the past year going to and from work. I’m concerned not only with class and race, but as someone living outside of Boystown. I hope resources aren’t being pulled out of neighborhoods that really need them. On 82nd St. last week, very close to where I live, a young girl was shot. We found out only because the METRA Line was stopped.
Racists are like sharks. They smell blood and they will come in and send this message. I remember seeing comments on the internet that “they” are messing up Boystown, using the n word and the f word. They have been doing that for a long time, but now they are stoking the fires. My fear is that those sharks will start circling, trying to create this ugly emotional atmosphere.
Fred: At the CAPS meeting I recognized I was seeing the same racism as in Marquette Park in the 1970s. There was no connection to a rising crime rate because there was no rising crime rate. The police admitted that the crime rate has fallen every year since 2007. The alderman himself should be put on the spot. To counter these loose racist charges with their own voices, the Black youth could put out a newsletter.
Ahkia: Whoever Take Back Boystown is, it is not a person, and is not an organization. I feel that Northalsted Business Alliance might just be Take Back Boystown. If you take your butt up to Lakeview, you know what you are getting yourself into. Because they have thousands of rainbow flags everywhere, it obviously means the Queer community.
If you own property there, then you are accepted. But if you are not a white homosexual man, then you are out. Women kind of slide. But anything else, Trans, oh my goodness. Community to them does not mean Queer, it means owning property.