By Erin O’Neal
(Disclaimer: I am speaking on behalf of myself and not the whole of The Qu. If you would like to hear from any of our contributors on this subject, I recommend contacting them directly for comment.)
In a shocking move, The North Halsted Business Alliance(NHBA) has announced that it has hired uniformed and armed security forces to “enhance security” in the Boystown neighborhood. A private security force, made up of off duty police officers, will patrol Halsted Street between Barry to the south, and Irving Park on the north in what they claim is an attempt to “provide a fun and safe environment for residents and patrons.”
Tensions have been high in Boystown since the opening of the Center on Halsted in 2007. The Center provides an array of services for members of the LGBTQ community and their allies, particularly younger ones. Youth from all over the city take refuge at the Center, often coming from as far as the South and West sides, as they have no place to go in their own neighborhoods.Some residents, patrons and business owners in Boystown claim the Center attracts an unruly and dangerous group of people from outside the area and insist that it has largely contributed to an upswing in crime in the neighborhood.
These tensions exploded after a stabbing that occurred late one night in the summer of 2011 and the Take Back Boystown Facebook group was founded. The group claims to exist for the purpose of “…bringing awareness of the activities, a forum for pictures, articles, videos of things you have seen happen in the neighborhood and a venue for suggestions, ideas and thoughts on how we can preserve what we have and go back to the safe fun neighborhood Boystown is known for.”What has frequently resulted though has been a collection of racist and transphobic comments being made by Boystown’s largely white, upper middle class residents and patrons.
Boystown has long been a destination for LGBTQ youth from not only Chicago but also around the country as a space where, for the first time in their lives, they can be open with who they are. The feeling is exhilarating as it is liberating. Traditionally, the support of Boystown was limited to the nightlife culture, which has always included its fair share of debauchery and drug use. Until the Center on Halsted opened, there were few programs for LGBTQ youth outside of partying and social climbing. Drug use and prostitution have always been present in Boystown, as is the case in most large, urban LGBTQ communities. To claim that unsavory elements have only recently appeared in the neighborhood due to the opening of a place offering alternatives to bar culture is suspect at best.
What is the real reason for this sudden need of armed protection from our LGBTQ youth? Why are private businesses paying public servants in their off time to protect the interests of the NHBA? Who is this security force accountable to? What are their procedures and who has reviewed and agreed to them? There have been no shootings in Boystown, yet this security force is implementing the use of bullet-proof vests. It encourages the aesthetic of a Police State and if any community is aware of the power of theatre in the political realm, it should be ours.Why is the NHBA sending this message and more importantly, why do some residents and patrons prefer the idea of a police state to one of inclusion for all?I think it is time to take back Boystown from the self-interests of local businesses at the expense of the greater LGBTQ community. If our community were being attacked by hate-groups and bashed in the street with no response from the police, I could understand taking such drastic measures. However, I will not stand by as supposed allies and community businesses hire enforcement thugs against our own people.
I am calling for a boycott against all members of the North Halsted Business Alliance and of the North Halsted Market Days. The NHBA is putting our community at risk for their own financial gain and operating with racist, classist and transphobic motives. It is imperative that members of the greater queer community of Chicago meet as soon as possible to organize a protest in Boystown and create groups to monitor the actions of the NHBA’s private security firm to create awareness and accountability by an outside party.?The youth in our community are not the enemy and we cannot sit silently by as they are treated as such. We need to fight for inclusion in Boystown, not policing.
Category: Community, Qu Original