“It’s great that Chicago has Boys Town, [where] you can be openly gay,” says Peter Freeman, a Chicago public health consultant with experience in organizing around HIV in the LGBTQ community. “The problem is, the divided geography promotes issues of dual identity in the Chicago gay community.”
That duality bedevils LGBTQ service providers. “Nearly all of the LGBTQ services are funneled into Boys Town, so the neighborhood draws a lot of young people,” Freeman says. “This means that funding opportunities are drawn away from other Chicago neighborhoods where they might need it more, keeping those areas from moving towards accepting homosexuality.” It’s not just the lack of services that slows acceptance, but the fact that gay youth—and particularly black gay youth—are often closeted at home and only come out in a place like Boys Town.
“When the Latino and black youth from the west and south sides started spending time on Halsted [in Boys Town], tension began to build between the older, white shop owners and the gay youth,” says Freeman. “On Halsted, boys are in hyperdrive because they can’t act out at home.”
But Freeman doesn’t buy the conventional wisdom that recent stabbings and muggings in the area can be blamed on the influx of minority gay kids. “This series of violent acts is a citywide problem, not an isolated Lakeview issue,” he says. “It took a while for the recession to hit Lakeview, and now it has.”
Mauren Avant Garde—founder of the School of Opulence, where ball scene competitors hone their skills—adds that “young adults are very frustrated because everyone pushes them away. And even when they congregate in the place where young gay people go, they’re not wanted. There’s some racial tension that no one wants to discuss. We have to be respectful of each other, but those conversations need to be had. Until they do that, and until they give the kids a place where they can congregate and have a safe space, the neighborhood—and city—are going to continue to have problems.”