Feeling Unsafe at the Intersection of Broadway and Belle Plaine

Just two weeks after the Pulse massacre, I watched the Chicago Pride Parade from the northeast corner of Broadway and Belle Plaine Avenue, in the city’s Uptown neighborhood. As marchers processed toward the Boystown gay village, I kept thinking about safety. Amidst sound systems projecting gay pop anthems old and new, marchers tossing necklaces and safe-sex kits to spectators, and rainbow-hued everything, plenty brought my focus back to safety: ubiquitous stickers and signs reading “Disarm Hate”; an increased police and armed security presence milling about; tributes to the Pulse victims. Queer communities regularly face heightened risks to their health and safety, but at an event in which hundreds of thousands manifest their love and support for LGBT people, the trope of securitization was jarring.

For generations, queer people have sought—and gained—a measure of protection in cities like Chicago, where the anonymity of urban social relations and a critical mass of sexual minorities offered more opportunities to live freely. In a city where the street festival is the defining mode of summertime weekend sociability, this freedom has meant that many queer people dance and drink with abandon at events like the Pride Parade. Despite these moments of collective effervescence and broader advances in LGBT rights, safety and security seem increasingly distant for many queer Chicagoans, with queer people often involved in producing safety inequities. The Boystown area abounds with examples. Controversies about the right to occupy public spaces in the neighborhood have pitted some gay and straight residents (mostly white) against queer youth populations (mostly non-white) from throughout the city. (The latter take advantage of Boystown’s LGBT-focused health and social service centers and seek a safe space to be openly queer.) In response to incidents of violent crime, the neighborhood business association hired private armed security to patrol the Halsted Street nightlife strip. Real estate prices have forced long-time residents out of Boystown and created barriers to entry for new ones, meaning larger and more diverse LGBT populations now live in other neighborhoods entirely. The City of Chicago has cut municipal health services and closed public schools, while giving corporations (including some who sponsored floats in the Pride Parade) tax incentives to open offices in the downtown business district. As if all of this weren’t enough, Boystown’s openly gay Alderman, Tom Tunney, voted against increasing Chicago’s minimum wage in December 2014.

An event called Pride at Montrose, organized by a number of black LGBT groups, was scheduled later that afternoon on the city’s expansive lakefront park, just few blocks away from the Pride Parade route. DJs such as Derrick Carter and Slo’ Mo were set to perform, and health organizations were offering HIV screenings and meningitis shots. When I arrived around 4 PM, I thought I was early, as the sound system was silent and hardly anyone was there. Chicago police had shut down the event, claiming that the metal barricades around the planned audience area were too short—four feet instead of the required six. On the day of the Pride Parade, inclusion and safety for all of Chicago’s queer people to make music, celebrate, and love seemed more distant than it had in a while. 



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