No More 'Boystown': Chicago Petitioners Divided Over Neighborhood Nickname

To keep Boystown or to not keep Boystown? That is the question some Chicago residents are debating after a petition launched to change the city's eastern Lake View neighborhood nickname.

Launched two weeks ago, the petition started by LGBTQ activist Devlyn Camp was designed to bring awareness to the male exclusivity the name promoted in an area that's frequented by members of the LGBTQ community. According to Camp's petition, the "gendered nickname" signals exclusion of lesbian, transgender and intersex residents and visitors by perpetuating the "systemic transphobia, racism, and sexism that have plagued our neighborhood for decades."

"The 'Boystown' nickname began in the 1990s as a joke and it is now a marketing tool used by the Northalsted Business Alliance, and perpetuates the existing social issues that deter many LGBTQ people from the neighborhood. As we all grow and reconsider our roles in perpetuating bigotry, we ask that this board reflect on the growing number of incidents in our LGBTQ spaces. One form of bigotry perpetuates others," the petition reads.

While the petition has gained nearly 2,000 signatures as of Friday, not everyone in the community is a fan of Camp's agenda.

A second petition dubbed, "Keep Boystown!," was launched on Wednesday noting that the history of the town and the nickname itself is "not meant to be sexist or racist."

"It's being a victim of the new change culture that has nothing to do with the fact that Boystown has always been welcoming to everyone. The struggles of the entire LGBTQ+ community is reflected in a city-backed name that has been inclusive for the entire community," the opposing petition, created by Blake Taylor, read.

Petitioners in Chicago Want New City Nickname
Crowds chant during the Pride Without Prejudice march in Boystown on June 28, 2020, in Chicago, Illinois. Demonstrators gathered to march for LGBTQ and Black Lives as protests continue across the nation. (Photo by Natasha Moustache/Getty Images

Taylor's petition noted that some residents in Boystown struggled with inclusivity but that was an issue that plagued many communities in many places. " It is an issue that should be addressed. However the name Boystown itself isn't the issue. Changing the name isn't solving anything," the petition concluded.

As of Friday, the "Keep Boystown!" petition had more than 100 signatures.

Despite pushback of Camp's petition by some, Brad Balof, a board member of the Northalsted Business Alliance, told the Chicago Sun Times that he was looking forward to coming up with a city nickname more representative of all the community members. However, he suggested it wouldn't be easy to pick a new name that "honors the LGBTQ history of the neighborhood as well as expands its inclusivity."

Newsweek requested further comment from the Northalsted Business Alliance.

The town's nickname stems from a popular column, Boys Town, that ran in the Chicago gay newspaper Outlines back in the 1990s. The neighborhood had long been a safe haven for LGBTQ people due to a swath of establishments that seemingly catered to gay white men. In 1997, the nickname Boystown was officialized after Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley recognized the neighborhood as the city's gay district. It was one of the first areas in the country to receive such designation.