In September, in response to a petition you started, the Northalsted Business Alliance agreed to change the area’s name from Boystown to Northalsted. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t an official designation — “Boystown” was just part of the alliance’s marketing.
It started as a joke in the gay magazine Outlines in the ’90s, and then it just got out of hand. The problem is the nickname was perpetuated on [the street banners that hang above the pillars that display] facts about our intersectional queer history — people of color and trans people and lesbians and all sorts of people that gained the right for these businesses to even have a neighborhood. The proof is right there that the community is much more than just boys.
You ran into some resistance. Why?
It’s been decades of [cis white men] having this power, and maybe they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be the underdog. They get defensive because they lived through the AIDS epidemic and Anita Bryant and various homophobic mayors. To be questioned now for their own bigotry must be hard. But just because you have experienced being an underdog doesn’t mean you can’t be guilty of holding other people down.
What are some examples of marginalization you’ve witnessed?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out at one of the bars and seen lesbians told, “Why are you here? This isn’t even your neighborhood.” When I was having my photo taken for the Chicago Tribune on this very project, a woman jaywalked with arms full of groceries to scream “tranny cunt” at me.
The Boystown banners are coming down, which you have called performative. What would be a substantial change?
I want to make sure this is included: It’s not just me. The Chicago Black Drag Council is making all of these same demands of the Northalsted Business Alliance: diversity and inclusion training for all staff [of businesses on Halsted]; diversity on the board; and putting funds from major events like Pride in the Park toward things like the Brave Space Alliance, which are services that keep our community alive, literally.
I heard you’re working to get the area’s name changed to Legacy Walk on Google Maps. What does that involve?
Oh, girl. I’ve tried to fix things on Google Maps before, like the Henry Gerber House in Old Town. It’s where the first gay rights organization in the country was founded. They have the wrong address on it, and it’s a historic landmark. I can’t even get them to fix that. This is gonna be a long process.