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VIEWS Boystown Is Burning: Prejudice takes root in the community
by Keith Ecker
2011-07-06

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Watch out Boystown! The Blacks are coming to get you! At least that's the message that some in the community seem to be broadcasting.

In response to violent criminal incidents in the gayborhood, Facebook users launched a page on June 28 called "Take Back Boystown." In one day, the group garnered more than 700 members. While some are thinking progressively by lobbying for increased citizen-led patrols and communication with police, others seem to be capitalizing on this issue to voice their racial prejudices.

For example, one fan of the page writes, "It's all of us innocent people that are being attacked by the blacks." Another echoes the words of many by placing blame on the Black GLBT youths that seek services at the Center on Halsted, posting that "We have a center full of 'kids' who don't live in the neighborhood just wandering around the streets because they lack the funds and/or age required to get into bars. So, what happens then? Well, I think we've all seen what happens..."

This ignorance reflects a growing schism that has taken root in Chicago's gay community. On one side are the mainstream gays. We are those who are portrayed in the mass and GLBT media and serve as the target audience for Lady Gaga and Glee. Politicians court us, and businesses cater to us. On the other side are the disenfranchised gay Black youths. These young adults have no public platform. Many come from extraordinarily intolerant communities. Some are homeless. Few have much money to their names. For the mainstreams, it gets better. For the others, not so much.

Have us gays really come so far as to have the "privilege" to look down on others with condescension? Have we achieved such "lofty" status as to completely trivialize the plights of others? I guess now that Ellen is the queen of daytime talk and Broadway isn't just for gays, we have the right to lump all Black people together as misfits and criminals.

Look, I get it. Boystown residents and bar patrons are scared. They feel as if the recent slew of violent attacks has jeopardized their safety, a belief that is not without reason. And it would be disingenuous of me to not disclose that I have been subjected to verbal harassment from some of the Black GLBT youths along Halsted. But there is a giant leap between verbal harassment and physical assault.

Bigotry merely represents a lack of understanding. And ignorance is fueled by fear. We of all people should know the harm that bigotry and ignorance can render. To think that Black GLBT youths are somehow separate from our community reflects this narrow-mindedness. The more we take an us-versus-them stance, the more we show ourselves to be hypocrites. These young adults have nowhere else to go, and here we trumpet Boystown as the urban oasis for Chicago's GLBT community, a safe space that welcomes all ... or should that be "all" with an asterisk?

So let's admit we have an information gap and correct the problem. I propose we organize a public forum where members of the young Black GLBT community and the mainstream Boystown community can come together and have an honest Q&A. The goal should be discussion, not arguing. From here, we can begin to build a bridge between these two seemingly disparate worlds. Perhaps from these talks we may jointly develop programs to empower GLBT youths, facilitate a mutual cultural understanding and create safe spaces where all, regardless of age and race, can safely convene at night.

Make no mistake. Crime is a problem in Boystown—and we should definitely aim to take back Boystown from those who threaten the safety of any resident or visitor.

However, to think that Boystown is the property of a largely white middle-class segment of the gay population is ridiculous. Boystown is ours, and when I say ours I mean it belongs to each and every oppressed and disenfranchised GLBT individual. The more we rail against our community's Black GLBT youth, the more we hinder the opportunity to begin a dialogue. Chicago has enough of a racial divide. Let's set an example for the entire city. The decision is ours: Do Boystown's rainbow pillars represent open doors or fortified walls?

Keith Ecker is a Chicago-based essayist, journalist, comedian and activist. Read his blog at www.keithecker.com .


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