After several community conversations this summer about allegations of racism from some Boystown business owners and other organizations, a Chicago activist organization is calling for Center on Halsted to drop its security provider, Walsh Security, which has long been associated allegations of racism.
Lighthouse Foundationa non-sectarian, non-profit social justice organization associated with Lighthouse Church of Chicagois organizing the initiative through its Coalition of Allies for Racial Equality ( CARE ) arm.
"The folks who came together [in previous community forums] essentially said two things," explained Rev. Jamie Frazier of Lighthouse Church of Chicago, who is the Foundation's board president. "One was that they want to create businesses and not-for-profit centers that center the experiences and needs of Black LGBTQ-plus folks. The second thing was they wanted regular accountability from people who have amassed great resources to serve Black LGBTQ-plus folks. We think that Center on Halsted sits at the very apex of that conversation; they have received so many grant dollars and [so much] financial support in the name of LGBT inclusion. For them to be employing a racist security firm is just unacceptable."
Frazier added that the target of the protest is not the Center itself, but rather CEO Modesto 'Tico' Valle.
"At the end of the day, the buck stops with him," Frazier added. "We believe that rank-and-file folks who work at Center on Halsted are doing a great job serving our community, despite a very high people of color turnover rate [there].
Walsh Security's presence at the Center has long been the focus of community controversy. In 2012, Windy City Times reported that officers at the Center wore hats and sweatshirts that obfuscated the fact that they were not police, for example. Furthermore, various persons of color have alleged they've been made to feel unwelcome in the Center by its security. Walsh Security is headed by CPD Officer Thomas Walsh. In 2017, CWB Chicago noted that Walsh was allegedly involved in a brawl and repeatedly used a racial epitaph at the Lucky Horseshoe Lounge in 2013.
Frazier said that so far he's culled anecdotes and information from about 10-15 persons, including himself, about problems with security at the Center.
"I have spoken to current and former Center on Halsted employees," he added. "I have spoken to African-American LGBTQ-plus folks who have visited or frequented the Center on Halsted. I myself have done programming at Center on Halsted and I've met with staff before. I do have my own personnel experiences with that institution."
Center on Halsted officials, for their part, say that they've tried to engage the activists in conversation to no avail and are committed to racial equity and inclusion ( REI ) initiatives.
In a statement to Windy City Times, Center on Halsted Chief Operating Officer Kim Fountain said, "Center on Halsted is in alignment with Lighthouse Foundation that there is racial equity and inclusion work to be done in 'Boystown and Beyond' to work toward ending racism within the LGBTQ communities of Chicago. This focus is not new to Center on Halsted, though it seems we approach the work differently."
She added, "Racial Equity and Inclusion as a primary focus was put into the [Center's] Strategic Plan. From this, a Director of Racial Equity and Inclusion was hired as well as nationally recognized REI consultant Inca Mohamed. These two individuals helped to form the Equity Leadership Groups for the Board and Staff. In May, Center on Halsted stopped all programing for two days while the staff attended an REI staff development meeting. Inca Mohamed also met 1:1 with most staff and hosted six open meetings to speak with staff in groups about REI at the Center. She will use this information to guide the ELG and Senior Team through the development of work plans addressing REI improvement strategy implementation."
Fountain also said that the Center was "exploring different models for security," adding, "When the Center first recognized the need for security, there were some trials and errors, resulting in today's team which does not wear uniforms, does not carry firearms, and is more of a reflection of the communities served. Several months ago, the Senior Team began to focus on alternative security options like that used at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, which trains and employs members of the community. We have also reached out to community partners to ask about their security companies.
"Until a solution is reached, Center on Halsted is also working with Walsh Security to engage an REI training organization that uses a model that we use when we do trainings in organizations where there has been anti-LGBTQ incidents. These are not one-off trainings but rather more longitudinal engagements. Tom Walsh has received a list of recommendations for organizations that do trainings and offer technical assistance, and Center on Halsted will ensure that there is follow through. Thus far, in the several years that Center on Halsted has worked with Tom Walsh Security, all the requests made have been met."
Fountain further acknowledged Walsh's alleged problematic behavior and language, but added that he had made "a commitment to be trained and mentored, to make a public apology, and to continue to meet with the Center to explore more options and his team's relationship with the youth."
Frazier said that before any meetings take place, stakeholders from his coalition will be engaging in extensive research to make sure their demands are clear. He anticipated that after an upcoming Saturday, Aug. 8, community meeting, Lighthouse Foundation would send a letter to Valle requesting a meeting.
"We will lay out our research, ask for his feedback and lay out our demand that Walsh Security be fired," Frazier added.
Lighthouse Foundation's Aug. 8 CARE meeting takes place at 10 a.m. at Lighthouse Church of Chicago, 2335 N. Orchard St. For information, visit bit.ly/2ZFSfmJ .
CWB Chicago's 2017 reporting on the Lucky Horseshoe incident is at bit.ly/2OERmd3 .