A few months back, Chicago made national news for officially changing the name of one of its most beloved neighborhoods, with the longest history in the nation of inclusiveness and acceptance.
Suddenly, Boystown was no longer cool.
Its name fell out of grace for its failure to include lesbians, gender non-conformists or anyone who is not part of the LGBT+ community.
It all started with an online petition which alleged exclusion. It reads “Systemic transphobia, racism, and sexism have plagued our neighborhood for decades, and it begins at the top, with the all-male board of the Northalsted Business Alliance.”
It is worth noting, by the way, that Boystown was a nickname for the area; it was never the official name.
The Northalsted Business Alliance almost immediately reacted to the claims and pledged to stop using the name ‘Boystown’ in its marketing collateral, promising to replace the nickname with the more official, Northalsted, and to carry the motto “Chicago’s Proudest Neighborhood” as its tag line.
However, before making their decision public, the association put out a survey asking whether the name should be changed. Even though about 80% of respondents said the name should stay the same, they chose to change it anyway.
I sympathize with the association’s decision. This is a hot potato no one wanted to hold it in their hands for long.
Contrary to what the petition says, Boystown has a long history of inclusiveness, and it’s not only about the LGBT+ community. If you walk up and down the street, it’s impossible to miss the numerous Black Lives Matter signs hanging from people’s windows on every single block.
For at least the last four decades, the neighborhood has welcomed non-conformists of any kind. If you felt different or unwelcome in other parts of the city or world, you could find a place here.
Naturally, the accusation took everyone by surprise. The association felt that the most prudent way to address the suddenly fomenting movement was to dump this hot potato and change the nickname entirely.
Check out this video of Boystown at night.
Long history beyond the Boystown name
But there’s more to consider.
For more than five decades, Boystown was just that.
After discriminatory polices from the police, rent increases and other socio-economic factors in the 1960ies, the gay community decided to move to Boystown, make it their home and redefine the looks, busineses and vibe of the community.
Well into the 1970s, the gay men stood proud and fought against discrimination and adversity and declared that despite all the humiliation they were force to live with in other neighborhoods, this was their neighborhood.
In many ways, it was the gay men of Chicago who paved the way for the neighborhood to grow and prosper. Similarly, the gay bars first opened in the ‘70s annd ‘80s on the premise of solidarity. They garnered national attention and portrayed ‘the term ‘homosexual as much more than a label, but word that represents real human beings who deserve the same respect as everyone else in the city or world.
Fast forward to 2020, the name change is mostly bitter.
If Boystown can be accused of anything, it should be that the neighborhood became a little too inclusive over time. It attracted and celebrated people with different sexual preferences and gradually became much more than the place where boys could be boys.
I do sympathize with the claim that since the neighborhood’s demographic has changed over time, maybe the name should be changed, too.
But changing the name, steals credit from those brave men who had the courage to start this community in the first place.
In shaming the name, you’re shaming its legacy and the history that shaped the neighborhood into what it is today. You’re also changing the name despite the fact that the majority of the people living here oppose the name change.
The new name sucks
Let’s face it. The new name suuuuuuucks.
Northalsted is named after Halsted Street, the street that cuts through the heart of the neighborhood. This street is named after Caleb Hasted, one of the early real estate investors in Chicago. In other words, it has nothing to do with the neighborhood, what it represents today or in the past, and its brave and colorful history.
In other words, not only was changing the name of the neighborhood a quick and dirty cop-out reaction to controversy, but in many ways, the new name is basically worse.
Boystown, at a minimum, represented the LGBT+, or at least a subset of it.
With the new name, it represents nothing. No one outside of Chicago historians who are hanging out in the dungeons of the Chicago Public Library even know who Halsted is.
So how exactly is the new “official” name more inclusive of the LGBT+ community?
What about the rest?
In many ways, the new name is a solution to a problem that didn’t exist before the contentious online petition was filed last summer. Even if there is a problem, as claimed by the petition, that non-binary people, lesbians and transgenders are being discriminated against by Boystown residents, do we really think for even a nanosecond that simply changing the name will wash away all the other underlining issues? Of course not.
Secondly, even if some folks were to argue that changing the name is the first step towards inclusion, let’s not delude ourselves or put on airs: this is Chicago.
It’s been 12 years since the name of the Sears tower, the tallest building in Chicago, was changed to Willis Tower. If you’re a Chicago resident, chances are you still call it the Sears Tower after all this time. You might even do it BECAUSE you refuse to be defined by someone else’s decision on what to call an iconic building.
Similarly, I have to imagine that most people will still call Northalsted – Boystown. So this entire commotion and the respective change is all for nothing.
While we’re at it, if we’re so offended that Boystown is not an inclusive name, what about any of the following?
Ukrainian Village: I feel offended and excluded in Ukrainian Village because I’m not Ukrainian.
Hermosa neighborhood: I’m offended that we’re using a Spanish word for a neighborhood in America.
Bucktown: Since I’m not into goat meat (the name comes from “buck” a male goat), I find this name offensive. In addition, since there are no goats residing in the neighborhood, it doesn’t reflect the current mix of residents.
Edgewater: This neighborhood is named after a famous tobacco salesman. I believe every non-smoker in the neighborhood should be offended and ask for a name change.
Andersonville: This neighborhood is named after Reverend Paul Andersen Norland who brought the Swedes together into their own little enclave. Every non-Swede resident in that neighborhood should organize a call to arms to change the name.
In conclusion, since all these Chicago neighborhood names are so offensive and exclude such large swaths of the residents, why don’t we just call every one of them West Indiana Borough, number them from 1 to 77, and be done with it?
This would make just as much sense as changing Boystown to Northalsted, wouldn’t it?