We Are Halsted: Opening the Doors

by: Adam Guerino

As a young gay male, I see different reactions to the progress being made on queer rights. And though I feel discouraged at times that not all rights are equal to me, I still feel optimistic that more and more doors are being opened. Our president has come out in support of gay marriage, gays are able to serve openly for our country in the armed forces and I feel more and more comfortable holding a sweetheart’s hand in public with every day. Some constantly say that it isn’t enough progress or it’s taking too long — or both — but it is a step in the right direction.

It’s easy to see all the doors that are opening for me as a gay white male, but it’s impossible for to feel comforted by it when doors are actively being closed for queer homeless youth. There is undoubtedly a disparity within the queer community that goes largely unnoticed or ignored. More so than ever before, queer youth are homeless. As of now, the statistic is 26% of queer youth that are either kicked out or run away. The Night Ministry’s homeless youth shelter, The Crib, is the only of its kind in the Midwest; giving homeless youth a place to stay in Chicago’s gay district and doesn’t follow gender specific policies and promotes queer programming. After a year of being open year round, the The Crib’s doors are being closed.

With the economic hardships that our country is undergoing, both government and private funding for nonprofits has slowed. At last week’s meeting with The Night Ministry’s board of directors, they made a very difficult decision to return The Crib to a seasonal shelter. The Crib was originally funded by the City of Chicago as a seasonal shelter that would be open from October 1 to April 30. When The Night Ministry Board decided to re-open it in August 2011 as a year-round shelter, it was with the understanding that the program needed to be financially sustainable. Unfortunately, The Night Ministry has been unable to raise enough private funds to keep the program open during the summer months. Effective July 1, The Crib will return to operation as a seasonal shelter and re-open its doors for the winter on October 1.

If there are 15,000 homeless youth in Chicago and 40% of them identify as queer, that means approximately 6,000 homeless queer youth no longer have a safe place to go in Chicago from April 30 to October 1.  These numbers don’t even begin to take into account those outside the Midwest that come to Chicago for shelter. Sure, other programs such as the Broadway Youth Center and Center on Halsted have day programming for queer youth, but what comfort is a program in daylight when you have no place to sleep at night?

Any member of the queer community can attest to the fact that coming to terms with your sexuality can be a difficult time; add to that the physical struggles that come from being displaced from your home and you can almost appreciate the terror of the situation. Worse, queer homeless youth come to the gay district for the same reasons that every other member of the queer community do: to belong. But instead, they are treated like outsiders, pariahs and accused of being criminals and running with gangs. And though, Lakeview is still among the safest neighborhoods in Chicago, community members are actively trying to displace the queer homeless youth even further with dirty looks, snide remarks and slander. Instead of celebrating the fact that the queer community has a home in Chicago away from prejudice, it turns against its parts with exclusivity. It would be ironic if it weren’t so hateful.

In response to the closing of the Crib and to this behavior, I wanted to help open a few doors for queer homeless youth. Last Summer, Patrick Gill and I approached the Alderman’s office asking to put together a show that would benefit homeless youth shelters and raise awareness about homeless youth — entertaining while educating the community. They passed on the idea but referred us to The Center on Halsted. The name for the series embodied what we wanted to accomplish with uniting the Chicago queer community: We Are Halsted. With an all-ages show, we raised money and awareness for three homeless youth shelters in Chicago, including the just recently re-opened The Crib.

After working with the homeless shelters, I learned just how unique The Crib was. Unlike the other youth homeless shelters that were located on the South and West side specifically, this one was located in Lakeview. And as previously mentioned, the administrators don’t use policies that are gender specific such as bathrooms or sleeping arrangements. I wanted to continue the series by reaching out to different parts of the community and including them in helping queer homeless youth. The next We Are Halsted was presented in December of 2011 with Stardust at Berlin nightclub, and I worked with AJ Durand to put on a raucous variety show that included burlesque, drag and circus acts to appeal to younger, alternative queer community members.

This time around, with The Crib’s recent closure, my cause has turned into a crisis. With Over The Rainbow creator Jimmy Kays, we’re bringing We Are Halsted to Sidetrack with a crowd-pleasing show that is completely showtunes-themed. With an amazing line-up featuring Jayson Brooks (Jeff-nominated musical theater actor, lead vocalist for JC Brooks and The Uptown Sound,) Jess Godwin (nationally touring recording artist,) rising musical theater talent Sharriese Hamilton and hosted by Benny Stardust (Steamworkz: The Musical, Windy City Gay Idol.)

I invite you. Not just to give money to The Night Ministry’s The Crib but also to look at every youth that vogues up and down Halsted at night and ask yourself if maybe that could have been you, if your coming out story was different. Be a part of your community by helping all of its parts. You may be queer, straight, questioning, gainfully employed, living paycheck to paycheck, home-owner renter or homeless…but when you come to a We Are Halsted event, you’re none of these things anymore. You stop being an individual and become part of We Are Halsted.

Open a door for someone in your community. We Are Halsted: Show Support With Showtunes. Wednesday July 25th and doors open at 7pm at Sidetrack on 3349 N Halsted. Tickets are $12 in advance (go to www.thenightministry.org – donate – and choose “We Are Halsted” in the drop-down menu, select $12 donations and your name will be added the door list) and $17 at the door. Proceeds benefit The Night Ministry’s The Crib.

Help spread word by “liking” our community page on www.facebook.com/WeAreHalsted and following us on www.twitter.com/WeAreHalsted.

Adam Guerino is a writer in Chicago who works nationally as a stand-up comedian and event producer. He is the creator of OutLoud Chicago which brings queer entertainment to the mainstream. He will hosting Word Is Out, a spoken word night presented by Inourwordsblog.com and OutLoud Chicago June 12th at Town Hall Pub 3340 N Halsted, 8pm. Admission is $5 and includes a companion lit zine. For more from Adam Guerino,www.adamguerino.com is a great place to start.

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