Boystown. That billowing beacon of gay. When I first moved to Chicago, I was convinced the neighborhood would emanate a strange sort of gay magic - a combination of diversity, social justice and acceptance unlike anything I'd ever experienced in my rural Wisconsin upbringing.
Boystown represented a place where queers - a reclaimed umbrella term covering lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender-nonconforming and more - would walk the streets and live their lives without fear of harassment. Where we could be open and free, our whole selves.
Two years later, those expectations I once had for the city-designated hub of Chicago's LGBT community are surely naive, if not delusional. While Boystown offers the largest concentration of queer-centric spaces, the area's overflow of saccharine gayness has had an increasingly sour, if watered down, taste. As the story goes, the gays "made it nice" and the straights moved in with their baby strollers and purebred puppies, driving out the young or otherwise non-corporate-type lesbigays and transfolk who don't feel welcomed or can no longer afford to live there.
But that's not what this column is about. In a system where the majority continues to hold final say over issues of the "minority," the straight community remains one of the most valuable and least realized assets to the queer movement's political progress.
With Chicago's premier gay district, described as "a dynamic diversified neighborhood community" by the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce, under the spotlight during the Obama-endorsed Pride Month, I think it's essential we ask the question of who truly needs Boystown? Is the gayborhood delivering what it promises where it counts? I'm increasingly not too sure that it is.
The majority of queer folk do not live their lives in a gay-centric bubble. We live in every neighborhood of this sprawling city. We come from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. We work in many different careers. We care about a myriad of issues beyond the latest episode of Glee. Any public space that's "diverse" by definition should be held accountable for actively welcoming all the parts of our queer selves.
LGBT youth who travel from other parts of the city to partake in the health and community resources they sorely need are turned away and organized against by many of the area's wealthier residents and stakeholders. Their sheer presence is blamed for any number of petty crimes in the 'hood and valuable community resources like the Center on Halsted are sometimes criticized for attracting the so-described "urban youth."
Queer women who, with the close of Stargaze earlier this year, find themselves left without many nightlife options in the city, are all too often met with a begrudging smugness from the neighborhood's boy-centric bars. Area lesbians earlier this year organized a boycott of Spin Nightclub claiming harassment and discrimination. And while the boycott attracted some 700 members on Facebook and a fair amount of gay press, the accusations were completely disregarded by bar management.
If your interests in music and culture fall outside of the Gaga/Beyonce mainstream, you're frequently left with few options for a nightlife home in Boystown. The 'hood's few "alternative" spaces simply fall short in overcoming the 'hood's not-so-subtle air of superiority.
Many queer folk have responded to Boystown hostility with new opportunities for organizing and socializing. Chances Dances is always expanding, currently offering up three monthly queer dance parties that practice the inclusiveness it preaches. Queer Social Club, held on the first Wednesday of each month at Archie's in Humboldt Park, offers a laid-back, board game-intensive environment for queer kinship. Queerer Park, the new queen of the sweaty danceparty, takes over various gallery and warehouse spaces, usually off the Blue Line, on a monthly basis. And there's rumblings of more near West Side queer events on the way.
While these parties help toward filling the void of inclusive queer social space, many of the city's health and organizing resources for LGBT folk remain disproportionately invested in East Lakeview. This Pride Month, I welcome activists, organizers, promoters and friends of the city's queer communities to re-examine where we've focused our energies. When we say "LGBT" are we truly welcoming everyone? Are we meeting our community's needs?
Follow Joseph Erbentraut on Twitter: www.twitter.com/robojojo