The Jeffery Pub, LGBTQ History Still Being Made

posted by Madame Bubby

I did some family history, and I found out my great-grandmother lived in the Englewood area on the South Side of Chicago in 1940. The place where she lived is now a vacant lot. It’s now a high-crime, low-income area that desperately needs reinvestment and TLC (not synonyms for gentrification).

I, her great-grandson, live way north of Englewood in an area that is now mostly white, gentrified, affluent, and gay. And I might add, stereotypically gay, exemplifying that the public, out and powerful presence of the LGBTQ community is still the gay white male.

But there’s a place called The Jeffery Pub, located at 7041 S. Jeffery Avenue, in the South Shore neighborhood, which after five decades is still thriving, not just surviving, and it’s in a predominantly African American neighborhood. In fact, it is now the oldest LGBTQ bar in Chicago.
 

The Jeffery Pub
The Jeffery Pub
Source: https://www.domu.com/chicago/neighborhoods/south-shore/history-in-south-shore

It was, and still is, based on this article and this article, the gender-diverse, welcoming “gayborhood” for that area, not dissimilar in its social mission to the local taverns of traditional blue collar neighborhoods in Chicago.

And just think: the place was founded before Stonewall, which also reminds one that the Stonewall revolution was sparked by marginalized persons, persons even marginalized by the gay world at that time: transgender persons, persons of color.
 

The Jeffery Pub interior
The Jeffery Pub interior
Photo credit: Max Herman, from Chicago Magazine article

And this place has always been owned by African Americans. I think that is truly significant, as well as the establishment’s resilience in the wake of so many social changes, for better or worse. It’s remained vital in proximity to areas that have experienced a long-term cycle of economic hardship.

It’s really disheartening, though, that if I were to ask typical persons around North Side gayborhood to check the place out, the reactions might range from a rolled eye to even a grimace. Physical segregation (and Chicago is definitely segregated racially) is the result of longstanding attitudes. So often, those who claim to be inclusive reject said inclusivity at the most basic level: physical space.

There’s lots of LGBTQ Chicago, lots of LGBTQ community, outside of the gentrified North Side of Chicago. Neighborhoods change and adapt, but it’s the people who make (or break) them.

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Nitty-Gritty City

posted by Madame Bubby

I moved into the nitty-gritty “big, bad” city in the middle of the 1980s. I rented a small, in fact, tiny, one-bedroom apartment for $425.00 a month, heat included, not far from Wrigley Field. The hoary Music Box Theater was within walking distance, still a major cultural center of the area. A mom-and-pop hardware store was among the retail establishments.
 

Music Box Theater
Image Source: https://musicboxtheatre.com/about-us/theatre-history

The Southport Avenue strip was dead at night. Signs of gentrification were occurring, mostly originating from well-heeled types who could afford to buy and rehab the large vintage dwellings that once housed working-class, white ethnic families.

One could hear wild metal and punk bands at the nearby Cabaret Metro, and the gay bars of Halsted Street were a cab ride away. Hustlers worked some corners to the east on Broadway. And, just a couple blocks to the north of my pad, the bar El Gato Negro, (picture at link) a dance club with a primarily Latino and trans clientele, was the scene almost every night of brawls. Yes, chair-throwing and punches.

I'm working with a cliché here, I admit. The strip has changed. It's all spas, boutiques, specialty restaurants and bars, geared toward the new well-heeled white jock/cheerleader types Chad and Brad and Taylor and Justine, many of whom are now pushing strollers. I am stereotyping; in fact, many of those who can afford to live in gentry-land make big money in the tech industries, as well as the more traditional legal and medical fields.

These new cityscapes of wealth don't possess the size and power of Silicon Valley in California, but the comparison is potent. Those who make money expect certain goods and services, and they are willing to pay for them. A $425 a month non-rehabbed apartment with a flower-power vinyl kitchen floor doesn't fit into this cut glass, opulent, homogenized landscape. The same apartment now goes for $1,350.00 a month (considered a bargain), and the kitchen and bathroom approximate the vast stainless steel and marble and quartz rooms in the million dollar condos where cooking often comes from a delivery box.

The situation in San Francisco, the most expensive city in the United States, is like this Chicago urban experience on steroids. Having just finished Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, where Anna Madrigal owns a gorgeous building with its own garden and can welcome new tenants with a joint on the door, the article that claims, “readers' first San Francisco rent prices will make you cry,” really wounds. Deeply. Bohemian paradise lost.
 

Barbary Lane
Barbary Lane

Here are few first hand accounts from that piece:

“1974 – $145 for a beautiful one bedroom apartment on pacific between Fillmore and Webster!! elevator had gate you had to to open and close. no bay view but all i had to do was walk to the corner and gaze at the most beautiful city. that was then. possibly 2340 Pacific? (those were the ’70s after all.)”—cicinla

and

“1975. Hyde and Sutter. 6th floor Studio with built-in antique (lukewarm) refrigerator, 180 degree view over the city. Furnished it with treasures out of a dumpster on Larkin. $105.00 a month. Now goes for $2195.00.”—George Reeds
 

San Francisco, 1970s
San Francisco, 1970s

and

“My first apartment was $245 a month on Dorland Street off Dolores in 1977. A spacious one-bedroom with a large kitchen with many glass-fronted cabinets and a huge bathroom containing a linen cupboard with drawers underneath and completely tiled. Night-blooming jasmine grew on the hedges in the backyard and their scent permeated the place when I opened the windows in warm weather. I loved it.”—Carolyn Zaremba

The cities are becoming suburban. The cities are living exhibits of profound income inequality and racial segregation. Yes, true, brutally true, but what I find worrisome is the association of those who had to flee from where they live with not just crime, but with activities that don't gel with a variety of norms, ranging from heteronormativity to late capitalist exploitation. I admit I've made that connection earlier in the blog, but does a “nice, safe” neighborhood necessarily mean an expensive, and usually segregated one?

Even gays and lesbians, who have earned a reputation as being one of the first urban pioneers (one might say colonizers) to take some previously nitty-gritty areas like Castro Street and Halsted Street, and make them safe spaces (in the meantime doing themselves the physical labor of rehabbing), aren't always the direct beneficiaries of their labors.

Now younger LGBT persons are once again trying to make their living on and in the physical and economic margins, but often without that funky edginess their ancestors experienced in the nitty-gritty, big bad city where there was an all-night unique diner on every corner and your eccentric landlady with her purple wig who you knew personally might invite you over for a nightcap.

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Featured

Weird People on the Bus

 

 

I Love Lucy subway image - woman wearing a vase on her head on a train with passengers staring at her


I've noticed lately there's almost a cult on youtube of people filming antisocial behavior on public transportation. The range of antisocial behavior is wide, but of course obvious brawls accompanied by foul language are almost sure to go viral, or at least get multitudinous views. 

Not surprising, this trend, in a world where senior citizen middle school bus monitors are brutally scapegoated (the Karen Klein incident) or where a girl is brutally attacked by her peers (not in public, but the video was disseminated on the Internet), and her attackers are even thrilled when they end up on the news after they get arrested (see the Lifetime movie, Girl Fight, based of course on a true story). Overall, these incidents (and many others) point to a disturbing pathology of voyeurism and narcissism. 
 

Karen Klein on bus - video stills

I'm not necessarily espousing the view of many “Make America Great Again” people who support the (ah, so ironic given my opinion here, the vulgar boor "President") where American was supposedly a kinder, gentler (maybe the word is genteel), less narcissistic place in their white bread 1950s. But in the days when one got dressed up to go outside (remember, Ethel Mertz would never wear blue jeans on the subway), one wonders if one's clothing might somehow reflect or even monitor one's behavior. Of course, one can act like a brute in a suit (again, look at the vulgar boor), but still, I wonder. 


I do wonder how many fights occurred on buses in the 1950s. But then, one couldn't just immediately whip out a phone and film them for posterity. 

Cell phone footage still from CTA bus fight

But when one takes “public transportation,” and in Chicago, that means the CTA (Chicago Transportation Authority), one is exposed to a vast array of people and their behavior. And in Chicago, especially, where “public transportation” is considered to be the province of lower-status people, there's a stigma. 

 

Crowded public transportation


One takes the bus only when one is too poor to own a car, or disabled, or old, or very young, or non-white. And one only takes it when one's car breaks down. And it's almost like if you own a car, even in densely populated areas where you don't really need one, you've made it. And the high-end developments going up almost always contain garages. 

And in Chicago, certain bus lines are stigmatized in the stigmatized CTA system and those who take it. The number 36, Broadway, carries a reputation for being the bus “weirdos” take. Yet that bus goes through an area of Chicago, Uptown, an area especially hard hit by the lack of governmental funding for certain programs released mentally disturbed people onto the streets from shelters and other facilities. 

I'm not certain which other routes carry this stigma, and I don't want to overgeneralize that buses in underserved areas carry passengers who are necessarily more dangerous or “weird.” Well, there was the woman on one bus on the South Side who claimed to be a bike; see this photo. 
 

Woman riding on bike rack on CTA bus

Anyway, I've been taking the CTA for a long time (for multiple reasons, and I fit some of the stereotypes of those who take it), and I've seen much, but an incident that occurred on the number 81, Lawrence bus, (which travels through one of the most ethnically diverse areas in Chicago) stood out. 
 

Number 81 Lawrence CTA bus

I was waiting for it with my friend from out of town. We had just returned from the casino. We saw a frowsy older woman (maybe sixtyish) with very short hair and very thick round coke-bottle glasses practically leap in front of the bus as it pulled into the terminal; yes, she leaped right in front of the yellow line. The sign tells you to not cross that yellow line. The bus driver, a heavyset African-American woman, yelled at her, harshly, claiming that she had almost hit her as the bus pulled in because she crossed the line. I got the sense this woman takes this bus regularly and always disobeys the sign, and may have been almost hit previous times as the bus pulled in. I heard her respond snarkily to the bus driver, “I have to be the first on the bus.” Uh, OK ... 

Yes, she was, and she sat down and pulled out what looked like some kind of Christian fundamentalist tract from one of her multiple bags (yes, a cliché, but watch for multiple bags, and I don't mean newly minted bags from a recent shopping trips to Macy's or Bloomingdales). My friend (we were sitting a couple of seat pairs behind her) saw she had made many notes on one of the pages. The theme of the tract was the usual societal decay apocalyptic doom end of the world scenario, and my friend later told me he was able to even decipher one of her notes on a section of the tract: It's the television, the source of evil. 

I must claim, though, based on what I said about these viral videos, she may not be that far off track, but I imagined her sitting in her tiny apartment wearing a tin foil hat monitoring the Satanic messages coming in from a test pattern. 

But then, and this is where her behavior became really bizarre and offensive, a young Hispanic woman got on with a baby in a stroller. The woman with the baby pulled down the disabled seats right in front of the weird woman so she could get the stroller out of everyone's way. The weird woman proceeded to hold her nose. She then retrieved from one of her multiple bags a small, sample-size container of Lysol and spray it around her. 
 

Lysol

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. My mouth remained open. Shock. 

Weird woman exited at Pulaski and Lawrence, not exactly a high-class area. In fact, it looked rather overcrowded and depressed. Gentrification had not arrived. Many people were thus waiting for buses. 

And no, I did not film this incident. I'm not sure what conclusions I can draw, but I get the sense, other than that the woman was obviously disturbed, that perhaps she was one of the people who lived around Pulaski and Lawrence in the sixties or even the fifties when the area was white, and I think, predominately Jewish. And she was still living there. But the world changed around her. She couldn't embrace the change as positive and took refuge in a reality that could be safe only by through segregation and scapegoating. 

And this disturbing dynamic is still occurring as youtubers film and view videos that show “the other” as someone or, more accurately, something, to be mocked and dehumanized by not only physical strangers, but by millions, even billions of impersonal, invisible voyeurs. 

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Chicago LGBTQ Pride Parade 2016: Subdued but Controversial

 

The lowdown from the Chicago Gay Pride Parade this year was “subdued” but “still colorful” or “festive” but “respectful.” 

The subdued and respectful adjectives fit, because the LGBTQ community is in mourning because of the horrific events at Orlando, and in tandem with many pride parades around the globe, the victims were honored. In Chicago, the first entry was a memorial to the victims, with participants holding photos of them. A woman standing next to me wept. 
 

Orlando tribute at Chicago Pride Parade


After this profoundly moving start, the action began to pick up a bit, but I noticed less people standing by the beginning of the parade (where my friend and I were hanging about). It seemed at times the people marching and on floats had to do more to get the crowds cheering. As usual, PFLAG and the schools elicited enthusiastic cheers. 

I did find it rather unfortunate that the Chicago PrimeTimers (a gay male senior citizens club), which entry consisted of three elders holding a banner, was followed immediately by a bevy of young hot gay hockey players. At least the PrimeTimers got a mention on the special ABC local news coverage! 

This juxtaposition of older and younger might be interpreted as a show of unity in diversity, and several parade organizers claimed that the mood this year, rather than jubilation over marriage equality for all, was respect and unity. Everyone was showing unity based on a broader definition of love in the face of hate. 

Yet here's the rub. Something controversial happened in Chicago that shows we have a long way to go to remedy serious structural social and economic inequalities in the LGBTQ community, in many ways a microcosm of our society as a whole. An event called Pride at Montrose was abruptly cancelled by the police. The reason was ostensibly the height of a security fence. 
 

Pride at Montrose


Note that this event is sponsored by the Chicago Gay Black Men's Caucus, which in the past had used this event to perform valuable health services, (now in danger because of the state budget problems in Illinois), such as HIV testing, and this year, an emphasis on Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). 

Last year #BlackLivesMatter performed a die-in at the parade. 

See the connection here? It's pretty much a stereotype that many of the advances in the gay rights movement were often orchestrated by white men with power and money (and still are). The thrust to be able to join the army and get married could be interpreted as even conservative, as the army and marriage are traditional structures. In other words, was the goal really assimilation, thus marginalizing groups the large society also marginalizes? 
 

Wealthy gay married couple with a baby


The victims of Orlando were mostly young Latinx persons, many struggling to make ends meet in low-paying service jobs. Some were still going to school, mostly community colleges. I doubt any of them would be considered “upper middle class” or even “middle class.” They wouldn't be living in expensive condos (built because greedy developers force out the working class families in those area), walking designer dogs, or attending fancy benefits in beaded gowns (like many of the gay men in the area I live in, I must say). 

Marriage equality is beautiful, but how many persons on the lower end of the income scale can even afford to reap the economic benefits of marriage? And let's not forget that many lesbians, because women still make less money to the dollar than men, are struggling to maintain lives of dignity and peace because their earning power is reduced. And, shamefully, the poverty rate among transgender individuals is quite high as well. 
 

Housing is a Queer Issue - facts about housing in the LGBT community


If we are to really show unity, I think we need to start seriously addressing the fundamental inequities in the LGBTQ community that reflect those present in the society as a whole. We ask others not to judge us because of who we are; let's stop judging others based on income, appearance, age, or even personality. I'm hoping the younger members of our community, many of whom stand the most to lose in an dismal economic future (perhaps why many of them voted for Bernie Sanders), can prove to be an example of unity in diversity for their elders. 
 

Bernie with young people supporters

 

 
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Ho, Ho, Homophobia Has Got to Go!

 

I heard that a neighbor of Bijou Video's new office location (West Lakeview or West Wrigleyville) knocked on the door, claiming he was expressing concern shared by people in the neighborhood about the adult nature of the business.

First of all, how did this person find out? But then, websites like everyblock.com often report business licenses and building violations. Useful of course, but depending on one's motivation, the potential for harmful gossip, stereotyping, or even blatant prejudice exists.

Secondly, it's not like we are actually making adult movies. We sell vintage gay porn. Vintage. Like 30-40 years ago. Perhaps the neighbors thought they would see half-naked men parading in and out of the place and camera on the street. But then, would the neighbors be complaining if an individual was making amateur porn from his/her apartment and selling it via the web? Perhaps, but then the person is not doing this activity as an official business, and if it's consensual adult sex, whose business is it, anyway, privately or publicly? And, it's not like we are doing anything that would physically disturb a neighbor, which might be the case if one was making and selling porn in one's apartment. Police Scanner Log: 1500 West Bryon, loud sex noises coming from apartment 3S. Constant blasting of music. Buzzer keeps ringing. None of this goes on in our office.

Most significantly, I find it perplexing but sadly believable that the complaint may contain roots in the straight frat boy culture of this area (which also was the case in the latter part of our Wells Street tenure). I am sure around here half-naked straight jocks parade around getting drunk and vomiting an publicly urinating (the last activity strikes me as more pornographic in a kinky sense) and create an atmosphere where violence to women can occur. I would be much more concerned about such behavior, which escalates when the Cubs play home games at Wrigley Field and especially on St. Patrick's Day.
 

However, this neighborhood is also gentrified as well, where the straight jocks and their girlfriends usually become stroller dads and soccer moms. Thus the ugly homophobia which associated anything gay as threatening to children is probably the main cause of such “concern.”

Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. And in some cases, maybe they should also dress in the basement.

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