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Lakeview, Wrigleyville, Northalsted

As Boystown Reckons With Racism And Transphobia, Petition Demands Gender-Neutral Name Change

A recent petition claims that Boystown's nickname promotes the neighborhood as being "for the boys," discouraging women from participating in the community.

The Northalsted Business Alliance said it's making plans to remove banners featuring the "Boystown" nickname.
Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago
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BOYSTOWN — Some LGBTQ community members are calling on Boystown to drop its gendered nickname, claiming it perpetuates sexism and other discrimination in the neighborhood.

A recent petition, created by local queer activist Devlyn Camp, has received more than 400 signatures in support of the name change.

“Systemic transphobia, racism and sexism have plagued our neighborhood for years, and it begins at the top with the all-male board of the Northalsted Business Alliance,” Camp states in the petition. “It begins with the Boystown signs down our street announcing that this neighborhood is ‘for the boys.'”

Representatives for the Northalsted Business Alliance, Boystown’s chamber of commerce, did not respond to a request for comment.

The strip of Halsted from Belmont Avenue to Grace Street became known as Boystown by the ’90s and was named after a weekly column that appeared in the Chicago gay newspaper Outlines, according to a WBEZ feature on the neighborhood. In 1997, Mayor Richard M. Daley officially recognized Boystown as Chicago’s gay district — the first ever such designation in the country, according to the Sun-Times — and the name stuck.

Recently, the Boystown nickname has been used in marketing materials and other branding by the Northalsted Business Alliance.

Rainbow, Boystown-branded bike racks were installed throughout the neighborhood in May, followed by new street banners featuring LGBTQ and transgender pride flags with the Boystown nickname.

Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago
The Northalsted Business Alliance installed 125 new bike racks throughout Boystown in May.

“We submit this petition for the Northalsted Business Alliance to simply follow other LGBTQ neighborhoods across the world by marketing the area based on its location, North Halsted, not the majority gender of those people who sit on its board,” Camp states in the petition.

The petition points to neighborhoods like the Castro and West Hollywood in California or Greenwich Village in New York as examples of LGBTQ enclaves named after their location.

The petition to adopt a more inclusive name for Chicago’s oldest LGBTQ enclave comes amid a larger reckoning of racism, transphobia and other discrimination within the neighborhood.

In various protests throughout June sparked by the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, Black LGBTQ people detailed their experiences with racism, transphobia and sexism within the neighborhood.

Lucy Stoole, a member of the new Chicago Black Drag Council, an anti-discrimination group born out of the “Drag March For Change” protest, floated the idea of a neighborhood name change during a public town hall addressing racism in Boystown.

“We have to take some steps forward to make sure we have a more inclusive and diverse Boystown or ‘Queerstown’ — whatever you would like to call it,” Stoole said at the time.

Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.

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