The 2021 Pride Month celebrations may be over, but that doesn’t mean support and allyship for the LGBTQ+ community shouldn’t exist beyond June. Just like the ongoing Movement for Black Lives, the voices and needs of Black queer folks matter all year long too. 

For LGBTQ+ identifying folks, Chicago is considered to be one of the most queer-friendly cities in the nation. Northalsted, formerly known as Boystown, is home to the oldest LGBTQ+ community in the U.S.

However, with Chicago being a deeply segregated city, most of the city’s queer-friendly communities — such as Northalsted, Lakeview and Andersonville — are majority-white neighborhoods located on the affluent North Side. 

“I live freely. I don’t care if no one judge me,” said Tahesha Streeter, a South Shore native and bartender at Jeffery Pub, the oldest and only Black-owned gay bar in Chicago. It’s been one of the few safe havens for Black queer people in the city for more than 50 years.

Streeter, who is 41 and identifies as gay, has been a bartender at the pub for 18 years. “Wherever I want to go, I’m gonna go. I’m gonna wear my colors whatever it is. I don’t care who knows.”

For Timothy Jackson, Chicago is inclusive of LGBTQ+ people, but for non-white people, the experiences are different. He referenced the pushback from gay white men who were against changing the name of Boystown. 

“The whole brouhaha around changing the name of Boystown to Northalsted was done to make it more inclusive,” Jackson said.  “It’s not just the ‘g’ community. It’s the LGBTQ+ community. I was all for changing the name, but what I found [is] that a lot of the people that have problems with changing the name were white gay men.”

Jackson is originally from Mississippi, where the queer community was small. He also lived in Huntsville, Ala. He was never fully out in either place because of his work in politics. Still, he felt more comfortable in Huntsville because it was diverse. Today, he is the director of government relations at the AIDS Foundation Chicago.

“The great thing about being in Chicago is I can be 100 percent out and not have to worry about it, but I know that’s not the same experience that trans women may have,” said Jackson, who identifies as gay. 

Back in 2017, The TRiiBE spoke to Black millennials about their experiences navigating Northalsted, which was called Boystown at the time. Many said the neighborhood wasn’t inclusive of Black queer people and Black culture. Since then, the nation has had a moment of reckoning with inequities surrounding race, gender, and sexuality. 

The 2020 summer uprisings highlighted not only Black liberation, but also the issues facing Black queer communities. In the movement, Black men are prioritized over Black women and queer folks. This hierarchy forces folks to prioritize their race first but doing so ignores intersectionality.

During the Drag March for Change in 2020, Black LGBTQ+ leaders spoke about the racism and discrimination they faced in Northalsted. Photo by Darius Griffin // The TRiiBE

In Chicago alone, there’s been an increasing number of organizations led by Black LGBTQ+ people, according to Erma Standley, program director at Affinity Community Services, a Black led, queer led organization on Chicago’s South Side that has been dedicated to social justice in Black LGBTQ+ communities for 25 years. There’s also the Brave Space Alliance, which has a food pantry and delivery program, employment program, make-up room and more. And Molasses, which provides spaces for and by Black and brown trans people, to name a few.  

And even in mainstream media, where Black queer storytelling has been historically shut out, there’s a burgeoning number of Black queer experiences and narratives through TV shows and films such as FOX’s Pose, HBO’s Bessie, and locally from OTV, an online platform and nonprofit for intersectional pilots and series. 

On this year’s BET Awards, a major Black cultural stage, LGBTQ+ entertainers presented and received awards and performed. Gay rapper Lil Nas X ended his performance of “Montero Call Me By Your Name” by kissing one of his male dancers.

While Black queer representation is a step in the right direction, true freedom for all Black lives cannot be achieved if one identity is placed above others. This includes seeing cis-gendered people checking their privilege, speaking up when they see mistreatment, and having those uncomfortable conversations about homophobia and transphobia.

“Our city isn’t more safer and inclusive until Black queer folks can show up to all spaces as their full authentic selves,” Standley said, “when we no longer need to minimize or shrink a part of ourselves to feel welcomed or safe.” 

For Jackson, true allyship looks like respecting the humanity of all Black queer folks regardless of how they express their gender identity or sexual orientation. 

“Be truthful to yourself, and confront your own prejudices and biases,” he said. “As an ally, we understand that it is uncomfortable, but that uncomfortability is where you grow, where you learn.”

Discrimination within the LGBTQ+ is an ongoing issue in Chicago. During the Drag March for Change in 2020, Black LGBTQ+ leaders spoke about the racism and discrimination they faced in Northalsted.

Participants posing during the 2020 Drag March for Change in Chicago. Photo by Darius Griffin // The TRiiBE

“You have to defend your friends that are all a part of the LGBTQ+ community against discrimination. You have to and you can’t be part-time with it,” Jackson added.

According to Standley, another way to be an ally is to be in constant conversation with the LGBTQ+ community. That way, they said, there’s a clear understanding of what’s needed.

“We’re not a monolith. We don’t all look alike. We’re not the same. Our needs look completely different,” said Standley, who uses they, their and them pronouns. “[For] people looking to be an ally, it’s coming ready and willing to do anything within their capacity [and] asking us specifically, ‘what do you need in this moment from me?’”

Support for the queer community can come in various ways such as donating money, volunteering and uplifting local LGBTQ+-led organizations.

Last year, the country saw the highest reported number of murders for trans people since 2013. Forty-four people were killed, and the majority of them were Black and Latinx trans women. This year, Molasses and THORN launched self-defense classes and distributed safety kits to the Black trans community in Chicago. 

“Black trans women specifically cannot access the normal, respectable means to acquire funds and stability financially just because transphobia and anti-Blackness [is] built the way it is within the system,” said Zola Makeda, a Black trans woman, performer, cofounder, and organizer at Molasses. “It [allyship] looks like making sure that Black trans women specifically and Black trans people have access to funds that [ensure] safety, and protection and vitality and longevity, and also happiness because we are deserving of those things.” 

Repealing Illinois’ HIV criminalization law is another way to support the Black queer community. According to Jackson, the law is outdated and stigmatizes people living with HIV, especially Black and brown people. 

When the law was enacted more than 30 years ago, much about the virus was unknown; there was one treatment option, widespread fear, and misinformation about how HIV could be transmitted.

“A person living with HIV that has an undetectable viral load poses zero risk of transmitting the virus to anyone,” Jackson said. “So to have a law on the books that says that you have to do that, anyway, it’s stigmatizing.” 

Jackson said the law incentivizes people not to get tested for HIV.  Today, more than two dozen treatment options are available to people living with HIV, and medications like PrEP have shown to be effective for preventing HIV

“You can’t be charged with this crime if you don’t know you have HIV, so a quick way to [get] around that law is never get tested,” he said. That runs counter to public health strategies and stands in the way of ending the HIV epidemic.

From 2006 to 2017, HIV transmissions dropped by 35 percent in Illinois, according to Getting to Zero Illinois, a statewide plan to end the HIV epidemic by 2030. In 2019, Chicago saw its lowest number of new HIV diagnoses since 1988, according to a 2019 report by the city.

Under the umbrella of the Illinois HIV Action Alliance, Jackson and others were successful in their campaign to repeal the state’s HIV law. Through the campaign, they introduced House Bill 1063, which repeals the 1989 HIV law and ends criminal penalties against people living with HIV. The bill passed in the Illinois legislature in May 2021, and is awaiting a signature from Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who has voiced his support of the bill, Jackson said. 

Jackson said allies can show support by signing a petition to get Pritzker to sign the bill. 

“They can send a letter. They can tweet the governor’s office, asking him to sign House Bill 1063,” Jackson said.

is a multimedia producer for The TRiiBE.