Not Your Average Prom Queen: Who is to Blame For Violence in Boystown?
The area of Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood nicknamed Boystown has evolved over time into a gay Mecca. It is a part of the city where men holding hands on the street is commonplace, and most businesses proudly display HRC or rainbow stickers in the windows. It is the home to the annual Chicago Gay Pride Parade. Gay bars and clubs are a part of the draw, but the neighborhood is also home to a beautiful LGBT community center that offers meeting space, programming and events. Unfortunately, for the same reasons that make Boystown a great place to visit, this gay watering hole is host to much more serious LGBT related issues.
Although summer in Chicago is notoriously plagued by gun violence, often this sort of crime is centered on the city’s South side. This summer has seen a surge in crime in Boystown and many people are blaming the growing LGBT resources for drawing more young people to the neighborhood who hit the bars and then loiter around street corners and parking lots all night long, and, it seems, sometimes get violent. These folks are from the far North and far South sides of the city, two areas connected by the Red Line train that stops conveniently in Boystown, and are majority African-American.
This simple fact – that a surge in crime has become linked with a rise in African-American presence – has changed the situation from a safety issue to a race issue.
Suddenly a call end the violence is translated into rich white people demanding the blacks go home.
This neighborhood is the only place in “diverse” Chicago with a place for LGBT people. A portion of this group is also homeless LGBT teens and young adults who flock to the neighborhood because they have no where else to go. Historically, the neighborhood welcomes them. It was, after all, created as a place of acceptance.
I read about the violence in Boystown every time I pick up the paper, but I’m also woken up every Saturday night to screaming, fighting and red and blue flashing lights. I am not exaggerating. I live across the street from a 24 Dunkin Donuts and, in the last two months, not a weekend night has gone by without witnessing a fist fight with my own eyes. It is scary. I don’t want to walk home alone late at night – a comfort I have taken for granted before. In addition to the stabbings, I’ve read about frequent break-ins and cars vandalized, not to mention the street is littered with trash and broken glass each morning when I leave for work.
This problem in Boystown isn’t a gay thing, and it isn’t a black thing. Violence is the problem. Residents of Lakeview need to remember that we are lucky to live in such an LGBT-friendly place, and that we want it to stay that way – not start rejecting individuals who seek safety and community on our streets.
What can Chicago do about this problem? Sure, we can increase police presence in the summer months, add cameras to our street corners, and prosecute criminals. But that won’t solve the bigger problem. We need to build resources for LGBT minorities and homeless young people in other parts of the city. We need to spread the word that being gay isn’t just a white thing. We need to provide more support in our schools and communities to provide alternatives to violence. We need to improve our educational systems.
The young black folks having a few beers and getting into fights on the street corners of Boystown aren’t the problem. They are the result. Maybe Chicago is the problem.
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