Ald. Deb Mell at a 2018 event to condemn the burning of a rainbow banner by Rev. Paul Kalchik at Resurrection Catholic Church. Credit: Mina Bloom/ Block Club Chicago

ALBANY PARK — A new website urging Chicagoans to “trash” incumbent aldermen was criticized last week for writing Ald. Deb Mell is a “disservice to White Dykes everywhere in the city.”

The website, City Council Clean Up, describes itself as being run by an anonymous group of queer Chicago organizers who are unhappy with “aldermen who use their power to further divestment from Black and Brown communities, to expand policing and criminalization, and to dismantle community resources for private profit.”

The guide calls openly-gay Ald. Mell (33rd) “a defiler of bowties and a disservice to White dykes everywhere in the city.”

In a statement Thursday evening, 33rd Ward candidate Katie Sieracki initially denounced the City Council Clean Up entry as “vitriolic and homophobic rhetoric” — but later softened her criticism.

“While I may have my policy differences with Alderman Mell, this type of hateful speech hinders our ability to govern and have real discussions about how best to move Chicago forward,” Sieracki said in her initial statement.

But those who support the site, including activist and self-proclaimed “trans dyke” Stephanie Skora, said the use of the word was not homophobic in nature.

Skora, co-host of the TacoBagel podcast and associate executive director at Brave Space Alliance, said the text used on the City Council Cleanup site came from the Girl I Guess voting guide, which Skora produces with South Side Weekly editor Ellen Mayer.

“They didn’t think to include that the organizers were queer when they were putting the site up,” Skora said. “That word is an in-community term that gay people use to talk about other gay people.”

Later, the website edited the Mell entry to “White lesbians” and updated the site’s “About Us” page to explain the community organizers behind City Council Clean Up are also queer.

“But for people outside of [the LGBTQ+ community], I could see how it could be misconstrued,” Skora said.

The Autonomous Tenants Union, a group that works to end evictions and create more affordable housing, tweeted out a screenshot of the City Council Clean Up’s original entry on Mell Thursday afternoon but later deleted it.

The initial tweet published by Autonomous Tenants Union on Feb. 14 at 1:19 p.m. Credit: submitted

“The creators of this site are queer,” said Jake Marshall, a spokesperson for Autonomous Tenants Union. “As I’m sure you know, queer women have largely reclaimed this word and often use it to refer to themselves … We took it for granted that this was understood, though we see now that the word is jarring without the full context of the authors’ identities being easily available.”

In a statement, Mell said she was “disappointed to read such bigoted rhetoric” when she saw the original post. But her campaign declined to comment further when the authors of the entry explained that they, too, are queer.

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Sieracki backed down on her criticism of the site once she found out its authors were queer, tweeting that she “called out vitriol based on the original information presented online.”

Chris Poulos, a campaign manager for 33rd Ward candidate Rossana Rodríguez-Sánchez, stood by the City Council Clean Up site, saying that criticizing it “is also out of touch with the organizing work in our city and community around Mell’s support of the Cop Academy and her refusal to take a stand against big developers driving out long-time residents.”

The 33rd Ward covers Ravenswood Manor, Avondale, Albany Park and Irving Park. Mell was first appointed to the City Council seat in 2013 and re-elected in 2015. 

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