Culture Clash in Chicago's Boystown Section

Lakeview's Center on Halsted is a haven for GLBTQ youth, and its programs and services attract teens from across the city. But while the Center's staff is pleased to see such a high turnout from West and South Side youth, some neighborhood residents are less enthusiastic.

The Center moved into its current building on Waveland Ave. and Halsted St. in 2007. At the time, the Boystown location seemed like an ideal spot for the community center's GLBTQ-focused programs. The Center offers various workshops for youth between the ages of 13 and 24, including culinary arts courses, art classes, counseling sessions, STD and HIV/AIDS prevention seminars and morning breakfasts for homeless young adults.

According to Courtney Reid, senior director of social services at the community center, 70 percent of the youth that visit the Center are minorities. Lakeview, the section of the city that includes Boystown and the Center, is a predominantly white neighborhood. These differences have led to several clashes between the Center's teen visitors and neighborhood residents. Uncomfortable with small groups of black teens congregating outside of the community center, residents began raising concerns about their safety to police and their aldermen. (Conveniently enough, the Center's building is located next door to a police station.)

"Because we are in a building that's open from 8am to 10pm, certainly we have young people that are hanging out outside or who are being, as sometimes teenagers can be, loud and unruly," said Reid. "We have really worked to educate our young people about what it is to be 'in community' and that we create safe spaces for all people so that all folks feel welcome at the Center."

Reid says the Center has also become very active in the neighborhood assocations and local Chicago Police organization. She says the outreach efforts are making strides with people in the community, with residents offering to volunteer and even hire Center youth. Reid hopes the bridge between residents and the Center's youth continues to strengthen in the coming months.

"Our young people say that even though they may experience racism in our community, they feel safer here than they do sometimes in their home neighborhood because they feel that they can truly be themselves here," she said. "And you're curious as a teenager, you want to know what's going on. And as a young GLBTQ person they want to be where all the action is, and this is where they come."
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