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19 July 2011, 4:00 pm 5 Comments

Politics: Reading Chicago

Jay  Borchert is a PhD Student in Sociology and Social Demography at the University of Michigan.  7 of his last 15 years were spent incarcerated in Illinois jails and prisons.  Upon release, he earned his BA, Summa cum Laude at DePaul University in 2010, while living on the south side.  He studies race and criminology in Ann Arbor, but Chi-town remains in his heart

This piece was written in response to Randall Jenson’s “Reading Boystown,” an exploration of the divisions at the heart of Chicago gay life published last Wednesday on TheNewGay.

Randall makes a good-faith effort at sorting through one of Boystown’s  social problems; problems which,  in essence,  are really about Chicago as a whole.    Historically Chicago has been the most heavily segregated city in the country.  The black-white divide between the south side and north side, despite diversity in some neighborhoods, remains salient in 2011.  Unfortunately this divide too often represents not only a racial and cultural divide but a stark divide in community resources, employment, schools, infrastructure, transportation options, police protection and police surveillance. Gay kids have it tough all over.  However, the structural inequalities on the south side and other less advantaged areas of the city make it even tougher for gay kids in these areas to have a decent upbringing.  Historical, structural disadvantage and racism which play out in the social geography are easy to see. Kids see and feel these inequalities on a daily basis.  It is the responsibility of thinking adults to recognize the problems created by these glaring inequalities and to realize that work needs to be done to alleviate them.  Acting out and criminal behaviors which these kids display are derived from social strains wherein some people simply don’t have access to the opportunities that the majority does.  Therefore they make do in life through other less normative methods.  Defiance theory also suggests that people are pissed about these inequalities and act upon this historical frustration of opportunity and defy the normative social order, sometimes with violence.

Our gay kids see this lack of opportunity and see very few people working to diminish it.  They see too many mainstream gay men and women, of all races, as too concerned with consumer culture and not concerned with the social disadvantages which prevail citywide.  They are angry at home and they are angry when they come up north.  At times venturing to the north side is for fun, a place where they can be their gay selves.  At other times, they may come north out of frustration on the south side and vent on those who they believe are not helping the situation; those who they believe could be of assistance if they would choose to recognize all community members and not just those with six figure incomes.

To be sure, acting out is unhealthy and oftentimes illegal.   However, it is understandable in this context.  It is the responsibility of those with resources, not only money but common sense and decency, to make all areas welcoming to our gay kids.  It is also our responsibility to let all community members know that illegal acts, particularly violence, can result in jail, prison, and sometimes even disability or death.    People who violate these shared social norms against violence have to face the penalty, whether the violence occurs on the south side or the north side and this must be made clear in a healthy way.  A healthy way in this instance would be an avenue that lets these kids know that if they think it is bad here, it is even worse in jail and that the inequality they experience now will be much worse with a criminal record.  These are the facts.  We need to take an honest inventory of our city and our gay community and confront the social problems we see head on with common sense and inclusivity.  We are all a part of that sometimes silly rainbow, made up of a diversity of colors, cultures and voices.  Let’s take care of our own wherever they live in order to make our entire community a safer, healthier environment and make racism and homophobia relics of the past.


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