Affinity Community Services, Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus and Lighthouse Church of Chicago members and their allies protested against Boystown's Progress Bar June 2 in the 7-Eleven parking lot at the corner of Halsted and Roscoe, across the street from the establishment.
There was heavy Chicago Police presence stationed in various pockets of the nearby area including a dozen officers standing with their bikes on the other side of Halsted.
The protest was called due to a controversial internal email that was made public via social media this past week from Progress Bar's owner Justin Romme telling DJ's to stop playing rap music. Since that time, community groups have canceled an event at the bar and tensions have arisen among bar patrons, with many people expressing their dismay on social media.
Ahead of the protest, Progress Bar owner Justin Romme told Windy City Times in a statement that the email "should never have been written or sent," apologized for the email and said rap music would not be banned.
Yohan Stevenson led the protestors in singing "This Little Light of Mine" and "We Shall Overcome."
Lighthouse Church of Chicago Lead Pastor Jamie Frazier told the approximately 75 people ( including a number of prominent community leaders ) in attendance that "we have come to expose the blatant racism that flows throughout the streets of Boystown … to say this is a town that represents all of God's children."
Frazier spoke about his church being predominately African American and LGBTQ-inclusive.
"This move [last week by owner Justin Romme] was particularly problematic because Progress Bar has a significant African American LGBT patron base," said Frazier. "[The bar] played music and created an experience that mattered to Black and Brown LGBTQ folk. This rap ban [was] a master-class in white privilege … because Justin executed [it] unilaterally … . The message he sent to [the Black] community is not all lives matter. We have come here today to raise our voices and say Black lives do matter."
Frazier said this protest is continuing a conversation that has been going on for many years. He explained that it is not about the rap ban because it was reversed, but the larger issue of some voices mattering more than others in Boystown. Frazier invoked local LGBTQ activists from the past including Vernita Gray, Minister Lois Bates and Jackie Anderson, among others who fought against racism in Chicago's LGBTQ neighborhoods.
Speaking about the reasons for the protest, Frazier said it is also about the other incidents of racism that have happened along Halsted Street in recent years.
Affinity Community Services Board President Anna DeShawn asked the crowd to sing "Ella's Song" and spoke about the work Pat McCombs did to expose the racist policies of gay and lesbian bars 40 years ago when they required more identification from Black and Brown people while white people only had to show one ID. DeShawn said McCombs "forced them to change their policies."
DeShawn echoed Frazier's comments about Boystown still being a racist place despite the presence of LGBTQ people in the neighborhood. She said McCombs, Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera and the person who shared the Progress Bar email with the media demonstrated courage. DeShawn said everyone needs to remember that pride started with a riot and should always be a protest because there is still work to be done to achieve equality and equity, especially for Black and Brown LGBTQ people. DeShawn called on the attendees to keep resisting including sharing this protest on social media.
Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus Executive Director Erik Glenn read a statement from his group that pointed out Progress Bar has the largest turnout of Black LGBTQ people on the weekends; however, the now-abandoned rap music ban has tarnished that status. The statement reiterated what the other speakers said about Boystown's long history of anti-Black policies including the re-gentrification efforts of Take Back Boystown where Black people were called "savage monkies."
Glenn spoke about the importance of everyone standing against all racist incidents in Boystown. He said one action people can do right now is use the hashtag #amazingforall that is displayed on Halsted Street to share their experiences as LGBTQ people of color in Boystown.
Affinity Community Services Executive Director Imani Rupert-Gordon said this week has reminded her why Affinity is still necessary.
"The reason why [Affinity prioritizes the perspectives of Black LGBTQ women] is because when you center the lives of people that experience oppression at multiple levels, absolutely everyone stands to benefit from that," said Rupert-Gordon.
Rupert-Gordon said the events of this past week reinforce this mindset and everyone who serves the LGBTQ community must be intersectional. She explained that racism that is coded is not heard by everyone but is "piercing" to the people experiencing it. Rupert-Gordon said protests are not punishments; they help impacted people heal so they can continue the work toward justice.
Frazier asked everyone to also attend a community meeting to continue this dialogue Wednesday, June 5 at 7 p.m. at Lighthouse Church of Chicago, 2335 N. Orchard St.
Drag Queen Mikki Miraj led a rap-focused dance party to close out the gathering.