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Column about Black LGBT youth angers some
by Amy Wooten
2008-06-01

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A May 19 Chicago Sun-Times column written by Laura Washington tackled the issue of the large numbers of LGBT youth from various parts of the city who have flocked to the Lakeview neighborhood to hang out since the opening of the Center on Halsted. It is not news that LGBT youth enjoyed socializing in Boystown long before the Center was even built. However, since the Center's emergence, several Lakeview residents and businesses have complained about the youth who come to the neighborhood, which has led to emotional forums and heated debates. Many in the LGBT community feel that the complaints are rooted in racist thought and a misunderstanding of queer youth and what they need.

Washington's column featured comments by various members of the community, such as Sankofa Way's Rev. Deborah Lake, Center on Halsted Executive Director Modesto 'Tico' Valle and Equality Illinois' director of public policy, Rick Garcia. Some members of the community are furious with how LGBT youth were portrayed in Washington's piece, and are dismayed by the comments made by Lake, Valle and Garcia, causing the Coalition for Justice and Respect and Critical Caucus to hold an urgent meeting regarding the matter May 24.

The Coalition for Justice and Respect's Marc Loveless, in a mass e-mail response to the piece, called the comments made within the article 'racist and unsettling.' He also called the article's characterization of gay youth in the area 'misleading,' and felt the article was 'disrespectful and untrue.'

Tommy Avant Garde, of Chicago's House of Avant Garde ( a ball-culture house ) , was angered by Washington's column as well, but did not participate in the May 24 meeting. 'My initial impression was that this is an issue that needs to come to a head,' Avant Garde told Windy City Times.

Avant Garde said that emotions are getting high again, not only because of Washington's article, but also because summer is approaching and more youth will be coming to the neighborhood. Avant Garde has participated in numerous forums and discussions about the issue, and feels that nothing can be done without everyone participating, including the youth.

In the article, Washington wrote, 'The summer winds are coming to North Halsted. The p.c. crowd is running out of time.'

'I will agree with her on that,' Avant Garde said. He feels that the LGBT community needs to move beyond discussion and argument and take action. 'If I have to step on the toes, I will step on the toes,' he said. 'I'm tired of it, and I think something needs to be done or I fear there is going to be a real big issue.'

In his response, Loveless took offense to Washington's portrayal of the youth that hang around Halsted Street as 'towering muscled youths.' He felt that Washington was insinuating that the youth pose a threat to the neighborhood.

Loveless was also angered by Lake's comments. In the piece, Lake stated that some of the young adults are coming to Halsted Street for sex work, but nobody seems to want to address this issue. In his response, Loveless felt that Lake thought LGBT youth hustling and engaging in criminal activities was the main problem, and felt the statement was a misleading, stereotypical characterization of Black LGBT youth.

Lake told Windy City Times that she was 'surprised' that anybody was offended or angered by her comments. She said that she recognizes that the issue is very complicated, and was simply trying to convey the message that the LGBT community needs to be willing to discuss every aspect of the issue.

She first heard about the sex work issue at a forum before the Center even opened, and then with discussions she's had with youth since. She said she was concerned 'knowing that was part of the attraction, but not part of the discussion.'

'Not every young person who goes to the North Side is going there for that,' she said, ' … but that is part of the draw.'

Lake said that her point was that the LGBT community needs to discuss all of the issues. 'We can't just pick out the ones that we're comfortable arguing about, which is race,' she said.

Loveless called the issues brought up in the article 'nonsense' in his response, and was offended by Washington's statement that when issues are brought up regarding LGBT youth in Boystown 'the Al Sharptons of the gay community scream racism.'

'I think racism plays a part in the discussion of that issue, and we aren't discussing that, either,' Avant Garde said.

'I believe you have to have the parties together to make things happen because if you don't, there's always going to be one side saying this and one side saying that,' Avant Garde said.

'We need to look beyond comfort levels, even in our disagreements, and talk about things that we haven't really talked about and haven't really explored, and hold those accountable who we haven't held accountable in the past,' Lake added. Lake believes that a lot of the arguments get in the way of having fruitful discussion.

'We're not having the discussions we need to have,' she said.

Avant Garde believes that a lot of what is missing from the ongoing discussion is voices of the youth. He has been working on empowering youth to speak up about the issue, and plans to have many youth become more involved once school lets out.

'We're not in a place to say what they need,' he said, adding that youth simply don't have alternatives to hang out on the North Side, as well as the South and West sides.

'I also think the African-American community needs to step up,' Avant Garde said. 'It's as simple as that. We need to step up.'


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