‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: Northalsted

June is Pride month, which is being celebrated all throughout the city.

But nowhere is it celebrated more than in Chicago’s Northalsted neighborhood, formerly known as Boystown.

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The neighborhood, located in the Lakeview community area, is known as the center of LGBTQ life in Chicago, and has just started to recover the vibrant character that made it famous. That’s not without a host of struggles the community has faced over the last year of the pandemic and civil unrest.

Interactive map: More from our community reporting series

Over the last year there has been a push to drop the neighborhood’s “Boystown” nickname for something more inclusive. Last summer, local nonbinary activist Devlyn Camp led a petition for the Northalsted Business Alliance to stop marketing it as “Boystown.”

“Even though it is historically a tongue and cheek nickname that was passed on, it encourages a lot of sexist, transphobic, even racist behavior in the neighborhood perpetuated by business owners,” said Camp, who is also a podcast producer.

Camp mentioned instances of racism and discrimination in the neighborhood, both from business establishments and patrons. In 2019, Progress Bar faced backlash after trying to ban rap music. The same year some called for a boycott of the store Beatnix after it sold a Confederate flag vest.

Since the petition, the Northalsted Business Alliance — the chamber of commerce — switched its marketing of the area from “Boystown” to “Northalsted.”

Lake Alen, the acting executive director of the Northalsted Business Alliance, said the organization only recently began promoting the area as “Boystown,” before it used “Northalsted,” which he said is the name of the geographical area.

Alen said the area will still likely be known to many a “Boystown,” but that the Alliance will continue to market it as Northalsted.

“Internationally the name Boystown is still gonna mean this neighborhood, even locally Boystown is still gonna mean this neighborhood,” Alen said. “Northalsted is what we’ve always been called. It’s what we’ve pushed before we used the name Boystown and what we’re going to use after we used the name Boystown.”

Camp said this is a great “symbolic first step,” but would like to see further efforts to improve diversity and inclusion in the neighborhood.

“I hope is reflected inside of the businesses of the Northalsted Business Alliance,” Camp said. “I hope they’ve had a change of heart and are reexamining how they perpetuate bigotry in their own businesses and making it a welcoming space for all intersections of queer identity.”

COVID’s Impact

While a few businesses have relocated, none have closed due to the pandemic, Alen said. Like businesses across the city, many on Halsted Street had to pivot over the past year. Some bars began serving food to be able to stay open under city and state guidelines. Meanwhile, the Northalsted Business Alliance and the local Special Service Area tried to help mitigate the cost of the equipment necessary to operate during the pandemic, like outdoor heaters and air filtration.

Many bars opened their dance floors at the end of May to people who are fully vaccinated, including Roscoe’s Tavern.  Shawn Hazen, marketing and promotions manager, says the first weekend with the dance floor reopen went well.

“People are excited,” Hazen said. “[The vaccine card] is kind of a badge of honor right now.”

The news that the city will fully open next Thursday is welcome in the neighborhood, said Alderperson Tom Tunney who represents the 44th Ward, which includes Northalsted.

“It means survival. Honestly most businesses cannot operate successfully or profitably with 50% capacity, it doesn’t work. The hard cost of opening your business every day means you have to get close to 100%,” Tunney said.

Video: Watch our full interview with Alderperson Tom Tunney 

Other organizations in the neighborhood have grappled with the challenges of the last year as well. The Center on Halsted provides myriad community and cultural programs and direct services to LGBTQ people in Lakeview and across the city.

It had to pivot some of its programs and services during the pandemic but has since begun returning to in-person activities, said Jolie Holliman, Senior Director of DEI and Community Programs at Center on Halsted.

Meanwhile, Howard Brown Health, a federally qualified health center on Halsted other locations across the city, is helping launch a research initiative to learn more about the pandemic’s impact on LGBTQ people.

Right now, there isn’t enough information to understand COVID-19’s impact on the community, said Ken Griffin, chief operating officer at Howard Brown Health.

“Of course, we have those that are transgender, nonconforming, folks that have HIV or other comorbidities we want to take a look and see what types of outcomes did COVID-19 have with those individuals that have those comorbidities or those elements,” Griffin said.

Video: Watch our full interview with Ken Griffin of Howard Brown Health


Many Pride celebrations are back on this year after being canceled last summer due to the pandemic. The Chicago Pride Parade, which typically takes place the last weekend of June, is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 3. Northalsted Business Alliance’s Market Days will take place Aug. 6 through 8. Alen says Pride Fest is in the works as well, though no date is set.

“Pride kind of snuck up on us as the same month that the pandemic kind of comes to an end as far as restrictions with the mayor announcing that we’re going to be fully open without restrictions later this month,” Alen said. “We’re definitely proud to still be here. Proud to be LGBTQ+. Proud to be inclusive. But this month, more than any other month we’re proud that we were able to overcome the biggest hardship that we’ve had to deal with in a very long time.”

Community Reporting Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.

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