An iconic Chicago neighborhood is getting a new name. “Boystown,” the city’s famous LGBTQ+ gayborhood, is changing its title to “Northalsted” to be more regionally-based and inclusive to all members of the LGBTQ+ community — and all people in general.
The Northalsted Business Alliance, which represents more than 100 of the LGBTQ+ district’s businesses, announced on Wednesday that it would no longer advertise the neighborhood as “Boystown.” The group calls it a pivot to “focus marketing efforts on the geographic location (Northalsted) and use the slogan ‘Chicago’s Proudest Neighborhood.'”
The moniker “Boystown” stems from an informal name for the district printed in the regional 1990s LGBTQ+ newspaper Outlines. After then-Mayor Richard M. Daley officially declared the area as the LGBTQ+ district in 1997 — making it the first neighborhood in the country to receive such a distinction — the informal name became formal.
The decision to change the name, however, comes after a petition was launched online in June by nonbinary writer Devlyn Camp. They argued that the “Boystown” title was feeding a culture of exclusion — particularly for Black, trans, and nonbinary people — and that the neighborhood, like most other gay enclaves around the country, shouldn’t have a gendered name (think: West Hollywood, West Village, etc.).
“Systemic transphobia, racism, and sexism have plagued our neighborhood for decades, and it begins at the top, with the all-male board of the Northalsted Business Alliance,” Camp wrote in the petition. “It begins with the BOYSTOWN signs down our street announcing that this neighborhood is ‘for the boys,’ though the signs hang above our diverse Legacy Walk of several [LGBTQ+] icons in our history.”
The petition received over 1,500 signatures; however, a counter-petition was launched to keep the “Boystown” name and raised over 2,100 signatures — more than the original. Adding to that, the Northalsted Business Alliance conducted a survey wherein they asked residents whether the neighborhood’s name should be changed. 58% of survey responders actually wanted to keep the name.
But despite being in the minority, the Northalsted Business Alliance ultimately decided to make the change because “it definitely felt like we should be doing something about it.”
“If [‘Boystown’] was making even a small percentage of people feel uncomfortable, it’s not something we should be using to promote the neighborhood,” Jen Gordon, Northalsted Business Alliance spokesperson, told the Chicago Tribune.