CHICAGO — The owner of a Boystown gay bar has apologized amid heavy criticism for trying to stop DJs from playing rap songs at the club.
Progress Bar, 3359 N. Halsted St., is a gay nightclub that frequently hosts DJs and dance parties and was known for its diversity of music. But on Wednesday night an email from the bar leaked, showing Progress Bar was now banning DJs from playing rap music.
Critics quickly slammed the move as racist, saying the rap ban was being done to push out black customers and other people of color. They left hundreds of comments in protest on social media and gave Progress Bar more than a dozen one-star reviews on Yelp.
Just a day later, on Thursday afternoon, owner Justin Romme apologized and said the email “did not reflect the values of Progress Bar.”
“The content was unwelcoming and hurtful, and in retrospect, it should have never been written or sent,” Romme wrote in a statement. “We seek to be a trusted member of the LGBTQ+ community and in the city of Chicago as a welcoming place for every person no matter their race, creed or sexual orientation. We sincerely apologize to everyone in the LGBTQ+ community and across Chicago for the hurt this message caused.”
Romme closed the bar Thursday night “so we can begin working to heal the pain.”
“When we reopen, we will do so with a renewed commitment to create a space whose patronage, atmosphere, and — yes —music reflects the diversity of our community,” Romme wrote.
In another statement on Friday, Romme said he was re-opening the bar and there would not be a ban on rap or any other music.
“I know it will take much more than this to regain the trust of the LGBTQ+ community. It will require an ongoing commitment and actions. I have reached out to trusted organization and leaders in the Chicago LGBTQ+ community and will work with them in the coming days on steps we need to take,” Romme said. “We also want to hear feedback from our patrons, neighbors and everyone in the LGBTQ+ community on how to build a more inclusive bar, and we will provide updates on these efforts.”
The original email, which informed DJs they “will not be asked back” if they played rap at Progress Bar, sparked controversy as soon as it was leaked on Wednesday night.
The bar suggested DJs play music reminiscent of “DJ AM for 2019 — a super open format POP/DANCE focused atmosphere.” The email also suggested DJs “think KSSFM/B96 opposed to WGCI.” WGCI is a radio station that largely plays rap and hip hop.
DJs should tell patrons who ask them to play rap songs about the new rule, the bar’s leadership wrote. They also noted there would be security near the DJ booth to “help with this transition.”
“This is f—ing racist as f—,” one person wrote on Twitter of the email. “Progress is frequented by [people of color] and banning rap is basically saying ‘f— you’ to these patrons.”
“I already don’t go to Boystown as it is because of how it caters to the white gays, but Progress Bar was one of the few places that most of us [people of color] could hang out at,” another person tweeted. “It’s sad that even in a neighborhood designated to all gays, they try and push the black ones out.”
Drag performer Quinn Hegarty also criticized the move, writing on Facebook, “… Are you just gonna come out and say black people aren’t welcome in your establishment?”
The pushback led to Progress posting an initial statement on Facebook late Wednesday, defending the move without apologizing.
“Progress ownership wants to make it VERY clear that EVERYONE IS WELCOME HERE!!!” according to the statement. “We have no ill intentions here. That can not be stressed enough. … We are still going to play hiphop, please don’t read too much into this.”
The bar’s leadership said they were “looking to try something new” by not playing rap and said the move had “NO racial intentions.”
But the statement was widely criticized, too, with hundreds of people leaving comments saying they would no longer support Progress Bar.
“Typical White response. Make a racist statement. Tell people of color who are offended by your statement to not make a big deal about it,” one person wrote in response. “Fire whoever wrote that email and fire whoever wrote this post. If it’s the owner, sell your bar now. It will tank. Happy Pride!”
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