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Boystown responds to violence
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times

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While Lakeview residents and concerned youth have been vocal on the perceived increase in crime in Boystown, LGBT community leaders, organizations and bar owners have been slower to speak on recent controversies.

Problems started at this year's Pride Parade, where a lack of crowd control resulted in brawls all over Lakeview. In the wake of parade, Lakeview residents created a Facebook page to discuss crime called "Take Back Boystown." Residents reported violent incidents on that page, including a July 3 stabbing that was caught on video.

However, the "Take Back Boystown" page has also been plagued by a perception that its members want to force youth of color out of the neighborhood, setting off a debate that nearly exploded at the Lakeview CAPS meeting on July 6.

We asked LGBT leaders and their organizations to comment on recent violent incidents in Lakeview, the July 6 CAPS meeting, and the birth of the "Take Back Boystown" Facebook page:

—Jim Ludwig, owner of Roscoe's Tavern: "The enthusiastic participation and staggering number of citizens at the CAPS meeting was clearly indicative of the community's concern for safety on our streets and the frustrations we all encounter. This emphasized our need for a dedicated entertainment district police tactical presence similar to that assigned in the 'Rush Street Area' is clearly needed to handle the huge numbers of visitors to our area seeking entertainment every night of the week.

"Respect for the friendliness in the neighborhood is lacking and really what all involved want. Any ordinary citizen is easily intimidated by the growing population of wandering and aimless underage folks who are drawn to North Halsted Street's welcoming and diverse nature. Most of these individuals do not feel welcome to "be themselves" in their own neighborhoods. Friendly, respectful social behavior is what is attractive to our neighborhood, but anti-social, confrontational, and intimidating behavior has no place in our shared community. Very, very few of these people cause any trouble, but their presence on the street is clear indication of their thirst for involvement and acceptance.

"The mob mentality is not appreciated or welcomed even by most of those from other neighborhoods. The bottom line for me is there really is no justification for defending any criminal acts. Halsted Street has a large number of very enthusiastic customers and residents who greatly appreciate the efforts to keep our safety assured. We have never had a more competent and attentive set of public servants holding elected offices and positions of authority in our neighborhood, including the aldermen, police commanders and officers."

—Paul Cannella, owner of Scarlet bar and Taverna 750: "There are two things that should have a zero-tolerance policy on Halsted Street. The first is racism and the second is crime. Aside from that, they have nothing in common. The past is the past, so all we should do is learn from it. There is no reason to rehash it, be rude, call people names, etc. Move forward. I am confident the police department and our alderman will get this under control.

"They are extremely hard working and dedicated people, but they need our support and help. Together, we can put a stop to crime. Once this is resolved, then we can turn towards some long term solutions such as increasing programs for youth at the Center, more shelters for the homeless, etc. First and foremast, we do have to take back Boystown — from the criminals. Then we can get back to welcoming with open arms any member of LGBT community, or others that seek our assistance as giving and caring people."

—Bernard Cherkasov, Esq., chief executive officer of Equality Illinois: "I am shocked and saddened by the recent wave of attacks in the Boystown neighborhood of Chicago. Our community cares greatly about keeping the neighborhood diverse, welcoming, and safe. At the same time, I am disappointed in the scapegoating of the already marginalized and disadvantaged members of our community. This is something that impacts the entire LGBT community, and we must all come together to figure out a solution."

—From the Join the Impact-Chicago official release: "The series of events that have unfolded in Boystown have been tragic. Violence is wrong, but so too has been the overt racism, dismissal of youth issues and hostility towards the most vulnerable groups that live within our community. We see the racist and ageist behavior that was exhibited [July 6] at the CAPS meeting as not only bigoted, extreme and exclusive, but also as one of the gravest threats to equality for LGBTQ people everywhere. The racist, ageist, sexist display brought shame to the LGBTQ community. We plan to join other groups in organizing and activism to confront this behavior and to demand youth needs be met, with safer schools, more shelters, and economic assistance that address the core sources of unrest in our streets. Action on this would stand in the tradition of everything our movement has fought for. Neutrality is not an option for us."

—Lisa Marie Pickens, board president and co-founder of Affinity Community Services: "Affinity would ask what is meant by 'Take Back Boystown?' We suggest that now is the time for a very measured, strategic and intentional conversation to take place among a broad based of concerned stakeholders so that understanding can occur and real strategic solutions can be mapped out that are inclusive of all."

—Rosa Yadira Ortiz, president of Amigas Latinas: "Amigas Latinas has been working to build community and support for LGBTQ Latinas for the past 16 years. We believe that an important part of our mission is to create networks of solidarity between diverse LGBTQ populations—something that can only be accomplished if we recognize the differential impact of racism, classism, ageism, transphobia and xenophobia on the lives of LGBTQ persons across the city.

"For this reason, we are deeply disturbed to see how quickly supporters of the Take Back Boystown movement have resorted to racist name calling and racial profiling in the name of protecting their neighborhood. Should those who commit violence against another person be held accountable? Absolutely. But this does not mean targeting all youth of color, nor should it mean agitating for the removal of programs designed to serve the most marginalized members of Chicago's LGBTQ community.

"In a year marked by 'It Gets Better' campaigns, we must ask: for whom? Can we look our youth in the eye and say it gets better, knowing that homelessness is on the rise for queer youth of color? Knowing that joblessness for Black and Latino youth in Chicago is at an all-time high? Knowing that agencies and organizations providing services to queer youth are facing increasing cuts in funding? And knowing that those LGBTQ persons who have the most economic privilege, racial privilege, and economic clout prefer to organize around the removal of youth of color rather than working for increased resources for queer youth city wide?

"Amigas Latinas joins organizations across the city in asking that supporters of the 'Take Back Boystown' movement re-examine the language and tactics they currently employ, and we hope that the debate around this issue will inspire a move towards inclusivity, rather than exclusivity."

—Modesto Tico Valle, chief executive officer of Center on Halsted: "To be clear, we condemn violence in all its forms including physical violence or abusive language. I think this is a feeling shared by most members of our community. We must work together to build a safe and inclusive community for all people. We're working with community members and organizations to find better ways to ensure the safety and security for everyone. Also, Center on Halsted serves the entire community—more than 1,000 people come through our doors every day.

"We provide job training and professional development, community and cultural programs, and comprehensive health and wellness services for the entire community. Just as a small example, more than 150 people participate in our LGBT senior programs every week, 5,000 people attend our arts and cultural events, five recreational sports leagues are housed here, and we offer free HIV testing to more than 2,500 people every year. "

—Illinois Safe Schools Alliance official statement: "At the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance (the Alliance), a youth organizing group committed to ensuring Illinois schools fully address sexual orientation and gender identity, we are committed to participating in a process that seeks to surface the issues of ageism, racism, classism and transphobia inherent in the violence and community reactions.

"We propose a format where individuals and organizations that are committed to community dialogue on these issues come together with middle and high school-aged youth and young adult voices being central. This process must include youth, young adults, Lakeview residents and community-based organizations, queer organizations of color, youth-led organizations, LGBT community centers and businesses, and transgender and gender-variant focused organizations. The Alliance has worked with schools and communities throughout the state in prioritizing youth voices through a process of addressing very complex situations involving violence and oppression and know we can move forward together.

"In order to begin this process, youth leaders at the Alliance are committed to participating in a real conversation with other youth of color and allies to ensure youth voices are heard and are leading the efforts to move past vitriol into solutions that put forward the lived realities of young people oppressed by a combination of factors including race, sexual orientation, class, age, immigration status and gender identity. We seek to engage other groups in and outside of the LGBT community who want to push past the name-calling and shouting and move to a space where we can hold each other and our community centers accountable to meeting and exceeding the needs of those often seen as the most vulnerable. For us, it is a struggle to seek and retain our humanity in the face of inhumanity through violence, racism, greed, and oppression."

—Crash Crawford, Sex Workers Outreach Project-Chicago (SWOP): "We at SWOP-Chicago stand in solidarity with all people involved in, or perceived to be involved in, street economies, referred to as 'sex-trades'—and feels the LGBT community in Chicago should do the same. As many in the LGBT community may recall, it isn't easy 'coming up.' The bigotry, stigma and even violence faced by LGBT people, especially youth, people of color, and trans-persons, or those perceived to be such, are still very real.

"As the 'capital of the Midwest,' Chicago and its predominantly LGBT neighborhoods is a natural mecca for LGBT people from all over—many of whom are fleeing toxic intolerance or violence at home. Many even have been turned out of their homes, and turned away from by their relatives and relations. In the past, as well as today; the police often end-up functioning as the mechanism through which the violence of racism, transphobia and homophobia operate—ESPECIALLY when these people are, or are characterized, as sex workers. For these people, the sex trade can be the one place where what up until then had been a hindrance becomes an asset.

"Often the only asset they and the LGBT community have in the first place is a sense of community. SWOP-Chicago maintains that what at-risk LGBT people need is outreach, advocacy and "a seat at the table" in the community—NOT further marginalization and increased criminalization."

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