This Pride Month, at the corner of Halsted Street and Waveland Avenue, Center on Halsted celebrates 10 years as Boystown’s LGBTQ community center. The social-service organization has been around since the 1970s, previously operating under the name Horizons Community Services, but its goal of opening a permanent home in Chicago’s officially designated gayborhood didn’t come to fruition until 2007.
But even before the center opened, some questioned whether the North Halsted strip, with its earned reputation as a playground for white, upper-middle-class gay men, was the best location for it to serve populations like queer youth from the South and West Sides and LGBTQ seniors.
Gay bars and businesses started appearing on Halsted in the 1970s, in the wake of the first Pride parades. But in the '70s and '80s, the Halsted thoroughfare also hosted feminist bookstores and lesbian community centers, not just bars or shops full of designer men’s underwear. In recent years, several Boystown bars have earned reputations for being unwelcoming to some patrons, sometimes leading to boycott campaigns on social media. Over the past several years, there haven’t been clear spaces for women, people of color or trans folks south of the center.
"Historically it was intended for everybody—at least those seeking refuge and seeking shelter," says Anthony Alfano, a member of the Chicago History Museum’s LGBTQ Advisory Board, which curates the series Out at CHM on the city’s gay history. "I think it’s definitely pushed groups out or never even fully welcomed some groups."
But who gets to decide who’s welcome in the community Mayor Richard M. Daley made the country’s first official gay ’hood in 1997? Who’s not part of the rainbow in the pylons lining the street? With gay populations long drifting to neighborhoods like Andersonville and Rogers Park and influential LGBTQ parties popping up in places like Logan Square, Wicker Park and West Town—is Boystown still necessary?