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‘Boystown’ banners to be removed because nickname makes some in LGBTQ community feel unwelcome

The Northaslted Business Alliance also will stop using the nickname in its marketing materials.

“Boystown” banners along North Halsted Street.
The Northalsted Business Alliance plans to remove the “Boystown” banners and stop using the nickname in its marketing materials.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Banners proclaiming a portion of North Halsted Street as “Boystown” will be permanently removed because the neighborhood nickname makes some in the area, the heart of Chicago’s LGBTQ community, feel unwelcome.

The Northalsted Business Alliance, the local chamber of commerce, will be removing the banners in the next few weeks and scrapping the nickname from all marketing materials, the group announced Wednesday.

The decision was made after the group conducted a survey that found the nickname made 20% of respondents feel unwelcome. The same survey found 58% of respondents wanted to keep the name.

“To really reflect the inclusivity of the neighborhood, the decision was made to eliminate it from marketing,” said Jen Gordon, a spokeswoman for the business alliance.

The nickname will be replaced with “Chicago’s Proudest Neighborhood” on marketing materials, Gordon said.

The survey followed an online petition battle over use of the nickname.

Devlyn Camp, an LGBTQ activist and resident of the neighborhood, started a petition that called on the business alliance to scrap the nickname because the gender-based moniker doesn’t promote the inclusion of transgender, nonbinary, lesbian and intersex individuals.

The petition, which garnered 1,500 signatures in three months, argued it started as “a joke” but now is “a marketing tool used by the Northalsted Business Alliance.”

Camp and fellow activist Jen Freitag say the business alliance, which organizes LGBTQ events such as Pride Fest, uses the nickname to appeal mainly to gay men.

“I’ve seen lesbian friends told in gay bars, ‘Why are you here, this our neighborhood’ by gay men, and this is because we have signs in our street,” Camp said. “The ‘Boystown’ signs lead people to assume the neighborhood is set up for the boys.”

“Even though [the name change is] a symbolic change, it represents a lot of other issues that we need to address,” Camp said, such as racism and transphobia among North Halsted businesses.

A competing petition to keep the name argued the moniker is “not meant to be sexist or racist” and has drawn more than 2,100 signatures.