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Chicago’s Boystown to change its name to be more inclusive

Chicago’s Boystown to change its name to be more inclusive

  • It’s one of the most famous ‘gayborhoods’ in the US. What do you think of the new name?
A Boystown sign in Chicago

One of the most famous ‘gayborhoods’ in the US is to change its name. Chicago’s Boystown will be axed after complaints the nickname excludes some of the very people it hopes to welcome. In future it will be called ‘Northalsted’ instead.

The district (Halsted Street from Grace Street to Belmont Avenue) has been dubbed Boystown since the late 1980s. Its use became so widespread, the local chamber of commerce, Northalsted Business Alliance, adopted it. The name adorns banners and signs around the area.

 

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In 1997, then Chicago Mayor Richard Daley affirmed the area as the first official gay neighborhood in the US. Banners with Boystown adorn lamp posts in the area.

Petition demands change and for greater inclusivity

However, earlier this year, a petition was started to change the name, with signatories pointing out it was not inclusive of other parts of the LGBTI spectrum.

The petition’s author, Devlyn Camp, says unlike other LGBTI districts (e.g. The Castro), ‘Boystown’ is the only gendered queer district name in the US. They also highlighted how some from the trans and black communities had felt discriminated in the area when seeking work. Over 1,500 signed the petition.

In response to the petition, the Northalsted Business Alliance, which has many LGBTI-run businesses among its membership, surveyed its members about the idea of a name change.

The Chicago Tribune says 7,900 took part in an online survey. Fifty-eight percent wanted to keep the name Boystown. However, 20% said the name made them feel unwelcome.

 

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NBA now says it will simply refer to the areas as ‘Northalsted’ (as in North Halsted). The district will be promoted as ‘Chicago’s Proudest Neighborhood.’

‘It definitely felt like we should be doing something about it,’ said NBA spokesperson Jen Gordon. ‘If (the name Boystown) was making even a small percentage of people feel uncomfortable, it’s not something we should be using to promote the neighborhood.’

Camp, who is non-binary and launched the original petition, reacted to news of the name change, saying, ‘This is progress. I think it’s fantastic that they’re acknowledging the need for change.’ Camp said that they still want more to be done to combat systemic transphobia and racism among the local business community.

Not everyone is happy at the idea of dropping ‘Boystown’

However, others are furious at the decision. Another petition has recently been circulating (gathering 2,000+ signatures), asking for the Boystown name to be kept.

Its author, Blake Taylor, says, ‘It’s not meant to be sexist or racist. It’s being a victim of the new change culture that has nothing to do with the fact that Boystown itself has always been welcoming to everyone.’

Among those to welcome the name change is Modesto Tico Valle, Chief Executive Officer of the Center on Halsted – one of the biggest LGBTQ centers in the US.

“Center on Halsted is pleased to hear that the Northalsted Business Alliance has changed the name Boystown to Northalsted for our LGBTQ neighborhood,” he told GSN. “Our community is diverse and ever changing; our organizations need to be responding to that diversity.

“In the 80s, Lakeview started with the name of New Town, then Lakeview, followed by Boystown, and now Northalsted, Chicago’s Proudest Neighborhood.

“This will not be the last time we see a change and I believe community members will even adopt a name for their neighborhoods. This is a step forward to being more inclusive but more work is needed to create a safe and welcoming community.”

NBA says it’s already started to plan the removal of Boystown banners in the area. It says it can’t make a formal name change. This decision lies with city planners. However, ‘Boystown’ will no longer appear on signage organized by the NBA.  The chamber of commerce organizes several big events in the area, including the annual Pride Fest, and its voice carries significant weight in the city.