Photo by Morgan Elise Johnson

Chicago is one of the most gay-friendly cities in the country thanks to a small Northside neighborhood created to celebrate the LGBTQ culture – Boystown.

But there is one disturbing feeling attendees say they get when partying in Boystown: Black folks are nonexistent there. Of course, Chicago is regarded as a highly segregated city, but how is this the case for the LGBTQ community, an already hyper marginalized group?

I spoke with three Black millennials about their experiences in Boystown, and why they feel the corridor isn’t as inclusive as it should be.

On the lack of diversity in Boystown:

Chandler Farris, 23, lesbian, medical student: “When you’re in Boystown, it becomes strikingly evident that [the Black] population isn’t there. First and foremost, it’s mostly white men in Boystown. And then, the music, in general, is almost exclusively top 40 Pop, Rock, 80s Rock… it’s not really reflective of what you would see at Black clubs and bar.”

Tony “The Vixen” Taylor, 26, gay drag queen: “It’s not that it’s an exclusion. It’s more so ignorance. If all you’ve ever known is white-only culture, you don’t notice that something’s missing and it takes seeing the diversity before you can realize [what’s missing]. That’s what my role in my journey in Boystown has been, making them aware that there is something missing and then providing that need.”

LaSaia Wade, 29, trans queer woman, activist: “[As an activist with Chicago Trans and Gender Nonconforming Collective], I deal with a lot of street harassment and police brutality with trans folks and especially Black trans women in that area. And we also know that around Boystown, every housing complex is expensive. Who can afford that, right? White folks can afford that. Understanding that intersection is also an understanding that, OK, this shit ain’t actually for us. It’s to look cute and say they’re for us.”

On whether there are other areas in Chicago where Black queers feel welcome and safe to party:

Farris: “I haven’t found a specific place. I do know that there’s a club on the Southside, like, around 30th and Michigan in the Bronzeville area. It has a regular ladies night for Black lesbians. In general, it always seems like we’re being pushed around to these events and spots that will host us but there’s not, like, a club where Black gay people go in the way that you think of Boystown, where you’ll find white gay men.”

Courtesy The Vixen Tony

Taylor: “On the Southside, there are gay groups and communities. But, Lakeview is definitely the safest place for LGBTQ youth and just gay people in general. Everybody should be allowed that safe haven”

On how Boystown can become more inclusive:

Farris: “People want to go somewhere where they see faces like themselves or hear the music that they play in the car. Incorporate more entertainers that reflect Black queer culture.”

Wade: “We been fighting, trying to get to the table. We need to start creating our own table.”

Taylor: “I had to be the change. Now, at Berlin, I produce a show called Black Girl Magic, which started with five drag queens telling their story and each doing a 15-minute set. In our February show, we had almost 10 drag queens. When I first got [to Boystown], there was no [Black] scene. I couldn’t wait for somebody to represent me. I had to represent myself.”

On what the lack of diversity in Boystown says about being Black and queer in Chicago:

Farris: “It is hard to be queer and Black in Chicago but it’s definitely a reflection of being queer and Black in general. For Chicago, being a mainstay for Black culture, it’s also a reflection of how Black communities at large have some deeply rooted homophobia, problems dealing with hyper masculinity and problems dealing with male-female gender role binaries. I think it makes it difficult for Black queers to be prideful within their families and then that makes it difficult for them to organize in public. So, no one wants to be seen or be out and say, ‘I’m going to this bar,’ because talk travels and then all of a sudden their family knows.

Photo by Emmanuel Garcia/LaSaia Wade (center)

On the responsibility to represent and demand a space for Black queers in Chicago:

Wade: “[We need] more Black queer spaces, and what I mean by more Black queer spaces [is not a space where] straight, cis folks run up in there and want to take it over. We should all be able to party together because we’re Black but [LGBTQ] already has so many issues that we have to deal with. Why do I have to go in a space and worry about [someone] coming behind me, trying to fight me, because of who I am? I shouldn’t have to go in a space and go into activist mode and give all the reasons why they’re being transphobic. I think we have a long way to go to not only decolonize our own folks but also decolonize our cis, straight and heteronormative counterparts.”

Taylor: “You just have to show up for yourself. Me and all the other Black drag queens have had that conversation where it’s like, every night, I don’t want to go out. But I remember that if I’m not there, nobody’s there. If you go to a club and you don’t see anybody that looks like you, it’s really your responsibility to stay so that the next person, who looks like you, shows up and they feel like there’s at least one of them here. That’s been my train of thought for the last four years. I have to be the presence for the next person. I think that’s part of the reason why there’s not so much diversity in Boystown. People just think that they won’t be accepted. You’re just like, ‘there’s no Black people in Boystown so Black don’t go to Boystown because they don’t think they’ll be welcomed there.’”

 

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