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Drag March For Change protests against racial injustice in America, Chicago, Boystown

“All black lives matter, and that includes queer black lives, and trans black lives,” organizer Joe Lewis said.

Thousands of protesters marched along Halsted Street in Boystown, the predominantly LGBTQ section of Lake View, during Chicago’s “Drag March for Change” on Sunday.

Protesters and a series of 12 speakers decried injustice in America, Chicago — and particularly in the Boystown community, where some attendees said they’ve felt unwelcome because of their race.

“All black lives matter, and that includes queer black lives, and trans black lives,” organizer Joe Lewis told the Chicago Sun-Times. “We just had to get out there and make sure that was part of the conversation.”

The march started at Halsted’s intersection with Belmont Avenue and stretched five blocks long before congregating again in the middle of the Halsted, Broadway and Grace Street intersection for two hours of speeches.

Although it’s taking place during Pride Month in June, Lewis said the march was intended to carry a far more stern tone than most pride events.

“This is a protest, not a parade,” Lewis said. “We’re not here to entertain you. We’re here to make you listen and learn. And to make you open your purse.”

Lewis and about half of the speakers — many of whom perform at Chicago bars and have competed in national competitions — came dressed in drag, as did hundreds of marchers.

Most of those drag queens and kings focused in their speeches on racist undertones of Boystown and its many bars and nightclubs.

“Boystown is one of the most oppressive neighborhoods toward black LGBTQ people,” Jae Rice of Brave Space Alliance told to the crowd, noting bars’ dress codes as an example. “You are able to hide behind a mask of queerness ... to perpetuate white supremacy. Police are not the only problem.”

Anthony Taylor — whose drag queen personality, The Vixen, is now considered one of the most famous in the world — said, growing up on the South Side, getting to Boystown was always a goal.

“[When] I finally met other gay people, all we wanted to do was be able to go up north to the Boystown. All we wanted to do was just see it,” Taylor said. “And when we finally worked up the nerve and came to Pride and stood outside … I realized, ‘Oh, I’m not welcome here either.’”

Other speakers asked for community residents to attend black drag events as often as they attend white drag events, and to diversify the racial demographics of the crowds at popular Boystown bars.

Focusing the protest’s overall message specifically on Boystown and its LGBTQ community was “crucial,” Lewis said.

Lewis said he contacted the roughly 50 businesses along the Halsted route and asked for their support, such as by putting out water bottles for marchers. At the end of the speeches, he told the crowd to put unopened water bottles back in front of the supportive businesses and trash bags in front of the the silent ones.

“If we’re going to move forward, we have to clean up our act,” Lewis added. “If we can’t stand and live in our truth, then we’re never going to fix the problem.”

Thousands participate in the “Drag March for Change,” led by black drag queens, in the Boystown neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side, Sunday afternoon, June 14, 2020.
Thousands participate in the “Drag March for Change,” led by black drag queens, in the Boystown neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side, Sunday afternoon, June 14, 2020.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times