Say bye bye to Boystown (the original one, that is).
The board of the Northalsted Business Alliance has decided to rebrand the famous North Halsted Street neighborhood of Chicago. which has been known as Boystown since the late 1980s (and was in 1997 declared the first official gay neighborhood in the United States by Chicago’s then-mayor Richard Daley.
As reported by Queerty, the online gay news site, business leaders decided to drop the Boystown moniker after Devlyn Camp, who identifies himself as “non-binary,” launched a petition to do so. The petition declared that Chicago’s Boystown was the only neighborhood in the country with such a “gendered nickname,” apparently unaware of the informal branding of West Hollywood’s gay nightlife district.
The petition decried “systemic transphobia, racism, and sexism” and said the district should be renamed to promote “the inclusion of transgender, nonbinary, lesbian, and intersex individuals.” Those signing the petition suggested other names for the neighborhood like “Pridestown, Queertown and Q-Town.”
After the petition gained 1,500 signatures, the Northalsted Business Alliance decided to drop the “Boystown” name, which is on banners along with the rainbow flag in the neighborhood. It made that decision despite the fact that a petition opposing the change got 2,000 signatures. That apparently means that West Hollywood now is the only city in the United States with a “Boystown,” even though the label is an unofficial one.
Should West Hollywood Drop ‘Boystown’?
So the question WEHOville is raising is: Should West Hollywood stop using “Boystown” to describe the city’s gay nightlife district on Santa Monica Boulevard stretching from La Cienega Boulevard to Robertson Boulevard (a district with a shrinking number of bars catering to gay men and none focused on lesbian, transgender, or bisexual customers)?
There have been a number of subtle efforts by local institutions to drop the “Boys” from Boystown. In their press releases, the City of West Hollywood and the city’s Chamber of Commerce have referred to the area as the “Rainbow District,” a reference to the rainbow flag that has become a symbol of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities. That flag with its rainbow of colors was designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978 as a symbol for gay men. It now is seen as also representing the lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities. Each of those communities also has its own flag, leaving the gay male community as the only one without a unique one.
West Hollywood’s gay identity is subtly buried in official statements by the City of West Hollywood and its elected officials, who speak of the city’s LGBT or LGBTQ “community” (Q is for “queer”). That lumps together four or more very different communities who share nothing more than a passion to ensure that people of any and all sexual and gender identities have the right to be who they are. It was that passion, and the work of activist groups like Equality California, the Human Rights Campaign, and GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) that brought together those very disparate groups to wage a largely successful fight for civil rights. (Early on, activists tried to get the African-American community on board, given that it was facing pretty much the same issues. But many African-Americans had conservative religious beliefs that made them find same-sex relationships abhorent).
Where Are the L,B,T’s?
While the City of West Hollywood references the LGBT “community” and says it makes up 43% of the city’s population, the LGBT “communities” are dominated by the gays (aka “the boys,” no matter what their actual age). The city’s 2019 Community Survey found that 33% of West Hollywood residents identify as gay men (a substantial decline from 39% in 2013). The other communities barely exist in West Hollywood, with the survey showing that 4% identify as lesbian, 3% as bisexual, 3% as sexually fluid, and 3% saying they don’t know or have no answer. (Heterosexual people make up 52% of the city’s population.).
Interestingly, none identify as transsexual. However, the city does sponsor transgender rights events, the City Council issues transgender proclamations, and our mayor stood by while City Council candidate John Erickson and others painted the transgender flag in the intersection of Santa Monica and San Vicente boulevards on the night of June 13, all efforts that garner a lot of publicity. But the lack of transgender people in West Hollywood may explain why not a single one of the nine members of the West Hollywood Transgender Advisory Board actually lives in West Hollywood.
Back to the Question
So back to the question: Should the residents of West Hollywood stop referring to the gay nightlife district on Santa Monica Boulevard as “Boystown”? Or should they officially designate it as “Boystown” even though the encroachment of Lisa Vanderpump’s reality TV establishments had been changing its character prior to the COVID-19 pandemic?
No matter what the decision, one has to wonder whether the “Boystown” moniker will ever go away. After all, this writer recently got into a car driven by a driver for Lyft and was startled to hear an app used by the driver tell her to stop on Havenhurst Drive at “Vaseline Alley.” She was fascinated, and amused, at my explanation of that part of West Hollywood’s gay (not LGBT) history. In this digital world, some things change quickly, and some never really go away.
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