Black LGBTQ+ people know what it’s like to encounter homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, and racism at every turn—and, sometimes, it slaps you right in the face when you least expect it.

At Touché, a leather bar in Rogers Park, the business celebrated its 45th anniversary with various festivities, one of which was an unlikely inclusion: a white ventriloquist with a Black puppet. 

Puppeteer Jerry Halliday, who is white, performed with one of his creations—“Sista Girl,” a puppet with dark skin, big lips, a blonde weave and heavy makeup. Before even delving further into what he did during the act, one would wonder: Why would a white man think it’s OK to perform as a Black woman? And if the bar owners knew this would happen, why would they allow it?

The videos one audience member took of the performance demonstrate how cringeworthy and disgusting the act was, as reported by Block Club Chicago. [You can watch the full video of the performance in the Block Club Chicago story].

In one sketch, Halliday has Sista Girl lift up her skirt to expose her private parts—symbolized by an Afro puff, one that he likens to a “Brillo pad” that could be used to “do my pots and pans” and “whistle while I work, lawd!” It was a degrading display that plays into racist tropes about Black women’s sexuality, in which Black women are depicted as buckwild, hypersexual and readily available to white men, such as the Jezebel stereotype.

In a different sketch, while speaking in a Blaccent, or whatever Halliday thinks a Black woman stereotypically sounds like, Sista Girl threatens to cut a noisy audience member who talked through his quips about how brown her skin is. But even after another patron says aloud that people in the crowd “think this is a little weird for 2022,” Halliday doesn’t take a step back for any self-awareness, but instead asks, “Everybody who wants this man to shut up, clap.”

And people actually clapped, wanting the show to go on, even after they were made aware—even for a moment—that it was problematic. It just goes to show that, even for a community that has faced discrimination, there remains ignorance and a lack of understanding among some (white) LGBTQ+ people about how to operate in solidarity and support of their Black counterparts.

White gay men may be able to empathize with Black oppression because they have an identity that’s been rendered to the margins of society. Homophobia is real. But at the end of the day, they are still white and they benefit from the racial hierarchies that have rendered Black people subject to immense harm and hardship—even more so for folks who sit at the intersections of multiple oppressed identities, including Black women and Black LGBTQ+ people.


Black people are constantly reminded, subtly or overtly, by their white counterparts that many spaces just weren’t built for them or created with them in mind. That’s the message Touché sent to the community on Tuesday night. 

The issued apology wasn’t earnest; it was more of a “sorry we got caught,” especially as patrons reportedly noted that videography wasn’t allowed during the performance. One can only presume that it’s either because Halliday doesn’t want his act stolen, or because the people who booked him knew the skit would be controversial and wanted to keep it under wraps. 

The bar’s management can’t claim to not have known the act was offensive, because that’s as clear as day. What cannot be explained away is why, even after an audience member called Halliday out, manager David Boyer reportedly collected tips for Sista Girl and the puppets “five little girls” that were named after over-the-counter medications like Mylanta and Visine, a dig at the otherwise creative names that some Black people give to their kids. 

What happened at Touché fits within a patchwork of incidents over time that have demonstrated that there remains work to be done across Chicago in making sure the LGBTQ+ community is inclusive of Black people. 

Over the years, various bars in Boystown have limited or banned Black music because the owners want to cater to a more mainstream, white clientele, even if they don’t explicitly state it. It’s why Progress Bar came under scrutiny in 2019, and eventually reversed its rap/hip-hop ban after community outcry. 

During the 2020 reckoning over racial injustice, the Drag March for Change was launched, and the Chicago Black Drag Council got into formation, because various activists and performers recognized that racist practices still persisted at Chicago LGBTQ+ establishments. 

And even a decade ago, during a spike in crime in Boystown, some residents dared to scapegoat queer and trans people of color, including the many young people who come to the neighborhood to hang out and be themselves in a relatively safer space. But that safety turned to hostility when community members declared they wanted to “Take Back Boystown,” and placed a collective target on their backs. They were subjected to everything from surveillance and vulnerability to criminalization for things like simply loitering in the streets—just as their white counterparts might otherwise do after frequenting the bars. 

But racism in gay spaces—including perforances done in the name of so-called comedy—isn’t only a Chicago phenomenon. The “Sista Girl” racist puppetry at Touché harkened back to the controversies surrounding another racist gay caricature: a blackface minstrel drag queen named Shirley Q. Liquor. In one infamous act, at the LGBTQ+ New Orleans festival Southern Decadence in 2007, Shirley performed a routine called “Ebonics Airways,” where she riffed off of Black church culture, ruffled through stereotypical names of Black women and played on stigmatizing tropes about drug use in the Black community.

Touché knew better, but didn’t do better. Nothing less than a fundamental shift in an approach to management can restore and repair the harm Touché did by hosting a racist performer. Not only is it time for a changing of the guard, but also a time to deeply examine business practices and how the establishment can better support Black communities. 

That could look like buying Black and committing to supplying diversity by finding ways to do business with Black-owned companies that make liquor or other bar products. It could look like committing to working with Black-led organizations on equity and inclusivity training, while making subsequent changes so that BIPOC perspectives are represented, heard, and valued at the highest levels. It could look like giving back to Black- or Black LGBTQ+-led organizations and causes—not out of guilt, but to begin a more routine and robust practice of operating in solidarity with the Black community. 

And above all, Touché must take full responsibility, and nothing less. One possible step in the right direction will be a town hall that will be held Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Leather Archives & Museum, 6418 N. Greenview Ave.

is a freelance contributor for The TRiiBE.