Boystown business group to tap security firm tied to cop with racist past

By Adam Rhodes
Medill Reports

The Northalsted Business Alliance (NHBA), a business group in the North Side queer enclave of Boystown, plans to tap Walsh Security as its summer security provider, just weeks after a local community center ousted the firm amid activist pressure over its owner’s racist and violent past.

Jennifer Gordon, a representative for the NHBA, told Medill Reports in an email on Friday that the group planned to hire Walsh Security to provide private security from May through the end of October.

The disclosure comes just weeks after local LGBT community center, Center on Halsted, replaced Walsh Security after pressure from local activists. Medill Reports reported in late January that Center on Halsted awarded a new security contract to Quantum Security, which has a track record of providing security to LGBT organizations in Chicago.

“The Center on Halsted’s move has not affected our plans to move forward with Walsh Security,” Gordon said in her email.

Walsh Security is owned by Chicago police officer Thomas Walsh from the nearby 19th district. Racial equity activists in Boystown recently focused their efforts on Center on Halsted and its now-terminated contract with Walsh Security over the police officer’s actions toward a Black security guard at a Boystown gay bar almost 7 years ago.

In late November 2013, Walsh assaulted a Black security guard at the Lucky Horseshoe Lounge gay bar and repeatedly used racist slurs against the man during an altercation at the bar, according to a March 2015 report by the Independent Police Review Authority on the incident.

Community members and activists have also accused Walsh Security of targeting and profiling those who congregate in the community center’s lobby, namely the queer youth of color.

The NHBA’s decision to hire Walsh Security, after Center on Halsted’s very public decision to oust the firm combined with the IPRA findings, shows the deep divide between the Boystown establishment, and the diverse community it serves.

Activists and their allies said it was another indication of the rampant racism in the community.

Local activist Jamie Frazier, the founder and lead pastor at Lighthouse Church of Chicago who was a prominent figure in much of last year’s protests, was surprised and disappointed at the openness of the NHBA’s commitment to Walsh Security.

“The fact that the Northalsted Business Alliance has not proactively fired Walsh after the public airing of his racist activities as well as his attempt to cover it up … shows the depths of racism in and around Boystown,” Frazier said.

According to the NHBA’s website, its board is made up of representatives from some of Boystown’s most popular businesses, including the neighborhood’s principal gay bar Sidetrack and The Chicago Diner, a meat-free restaurant in the neighborhood. Micah Hilgendorf, one of the co-owners of the Lucky Horseshoe Lounge, where the 2013 incident involving Walsh took place, is also on the board.

Lighthouse Church’s Frazier said he planned to continue his work to dismantle racism in Boystown, including the continued employment of Walsh Security in the neighborhood. As part of that effort, he has met with business leaders, including the owner of Sidetrack and one of the co-owners of D.S. Tequila Co., a Boystown restaurant and bar.

“It is very clear to me that the Northalsted Business Alliance is not going to do the right thing unless they are pushed to do it,” he said. “I’m hopeful that they do the right thing and engage this work as partners, not as adversaries.”

Photo at top: Despite the allegations of racism plaguing Walsh Security and its owner Thomas Walsh, a local police officer, the Northalsted Business Alliance plans to select the security firm as its security provider for the coming summer. (Adam Rhodes/MEDILL)