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Boystown bar owner apologizes for 'hurtful' email
by Matt Simonette
2019-05-30

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The owner of Boystown nightclub Progress Bar said that his business would be closed the evening of May 30 so he and staff could address issues that arose after an internal email calling for a ban on rap music was widely circulated throughout the community via social media. That email led to accusations of racism from the Boystown business that's been open since 2013.

Owner Justin Romme said in a statement sent to Windy City Times that the email "should never have been written or sent."

Nevertheless, community groups have cancelled an event at Progress Bar, and a protest is planned the afternoon of June 2.

DJs who appeared at the club were instructed in that email, widely circulated May 29, that rap music was to be avoided at all costs, and that extra security would be in place should patrons object.

"We have implemented a no rap rule effective immediately," said the email. "This is not a suggestion!! If you play rap, you will not be invited back."

That email was publicized on local social media, where patrons, who noted that Progress Bar had largely been welcoming to persons of color, were disturbed by racist connotations.

Activist Arick Buckles wrote on Facebook, "Progress Bar at one time was my favorite [Boystown] bar. After reading their leaked email I find it extremely challenging to support this racist establishment."

Progress Bar attempted to downplay the email in a May 29 Facebook post, emphasizing that "ownership wants to make it very clear that everyone is welcome here! We value our customers and respect everyone."

That post said that the club was looking to "evolve" but valued the diversity of the LGBT community.

Buckles said that the subsequent post "falls short of correcting the damages their hurtful, racist 'leaked email" has caused."

Officials of AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC) and Pride Action Tank (PAT) issued a cancellation May 30 of a planned event at the nightclub: In light of the recent racially inflammatory decision made by Progress Bar to remove rap music from its DJ's rosters, [AFC and PAT] have cancelled an upcoming event scheduled to take place at the bar. We are saddened to see such an unacceptable communication from one of our valued partners. We urge Progress Bar to reverse this policy and take intentional steps to address the racial tensions caused by their poor decision."

Lighthouse Church of Chicago, Affinity Community Services and Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus announced May 30 that they will have a protest outside Progress Bar on June 2 at 2:30 p.m.

Management of the Jeffery Pub in South Shore weighed in on the Progress Bar allegations May 30 as well. In a Facebook post, staff said, "The Jeffery Pub is the longest standing only Black owned LGBTQ bar in Chicago. We provide a safe environment welcome to all races, gender identity, sex and even sexual preference. We have a very diverse DJ staff and pose no limitations on music featured at our venue."

Romme said in the May 30 statement: "The email issued yesterday did not reflect the values of Progress Bar. The content was unwelcoming and hurtful, and in retrospect, it should have never been written or sent. We seek to be a trusted member of the LGBTQ+ community and in the city of Chicago as a welcoming place for every person no matter their race, creed or sexual orientation. We sincerely apologize to everyone in the LGBTQ+ community and across Chicago for the hurt this message caused.

"Tonight, we will be closed so we can begin working to heal the pain. When we reopen, we will do so with a renewed commitment to create a space whose patronage, atmosphere, and—yes—music reflects the diversity of our community."

CWB Chicago reported that a window had been shattered in the front of Progress Bar at about 9:30 p.m. the evening of May 26. A fight had also reportedly been broken up there in the very early morning of May 26.

CWB Chicago's report is at www.cwbchicago.com/2019/05/video-boystown-another-glasshole.html .


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