Berwyn welcomes increase of out and proud community members

2016-market-days

Richard Mondragon (bottom row, center), BDC Board President, poses for a photo with fellow Berwyn residents as Northalsted Market Days. Photo courtesy of the BDC.

By Jocelyn Cano

Over the last seven years the city of Berwyn has become a popular neighborhood among members of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community.

This growth is due to a marketing push starting in 2009, when the Berwyn Development Corporation (BDC) started the “Why Berwyn?”  campaign. Advertisements were placed in multiple Chicago neighborhoods such as Andersonville and Lakeview. In 2016 alone, the city spent $70,000 on this marketing campaign.

Recently, Williams Institute of UCLA named Berwyn  “#3 in suburbs for same-sex couples” in the Chicagoland area, just behind Oak Park and Evanston.

According to a US Census reported by UCLA from 2000 to 2010, Berwyn had a 41 percent increase in households reporting same-sex couples.

The marketing and the moves have influenced Berwyn in many ways, according to Berwyn leaders.

Over the last 10 years Berwyn has continuously hosted a booth at the Northalsted Market Days and participated in the Pride Parade in 2013. These events allowed the BDC to showcase why living in Berwyn was different than living in other Chicago land suburbs.

“#BerwynPride is a message of inclusion because we welcome all with open arms,” said Amy Crowther, director of chamber services at the BDC.

Crowther and others point to signs that Berwyn is inclusive:

Berwyn’s South District 100 was name “Ally of the Year” in 2015 by Illinois Safe School Alliance for its support in transgender transitions by offering gender-neutral bathrooms for transitioning students.

In 2013, Jeanine Reardon, candidate for Alderman of the 3rd Ward, was at the forefront of sending 60 people down to Springfield to rally in support of legislative for marriage equality. With support and sponsorship from councilwoman Margaret Paul they managed to send commercial buses to represent Berwyn.

“We could’ve tagged along with Oak Park, but to be able to say that this community [Berwyn] has enough to bring us down was powerful,” said Reardon.

After the mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, where 49 people were murdered at the gay club, Berwyn’s community leaders organized a vigil in support. About 250 people gathered for the vigil in Serenity Park across Berwyn’s City Hall. That night City Hall flew the rainbow flag in solidarity.

But despite these LGBTQ-friendly signs, Reardon and Paul say more needs to be done in the Berwyn community.

“I don’t think where we are is enough yet,” Reardon said. “The authority in Berwyn…isn’t proactive. When it’s pointed out to them they respond, but I wish they wouldn’t wait so long.”

Reardon knows, “what it is like to be excluded from the conversation,” due to her sexual orientation. She hopes her candidacy for the 3rd ward seat can help the city become more inclusive of all Berwyn residents.

In 1995, the organization Berwyn United Neighborhood Gay and Lesbian Organization (BUNGALO) was created in response to the exclusion of sexual orientation as a protected class in an ordinance prohibiting discrimination in housing, employment and accommodations.

This organization has disintegrated over the years and Councilwoman Paul recognized that, “[they] haven’t been able to organize.” Her hope for BUNGALO is that they can once again become a united organization in Berwyn for LGBTQ members.

While there is still some work to be done, Berwyn has become an environment where new LGBTQ members can thrive.

“I can be myself…we are not in the closet and we’re not ashamed of who we are,” said Paul.

Berwyn resident Jerome Pohlen is the author of “Gay & Lesbian History for Kids” and shares Paul’s sentiments.

“I think the visibility of out and proud community members, civil leaders, [and] office holders is great,” he said, “If everybody is allowed to be out and proud I don’t think there’s anything left to be said.”

Crowther is also happy about the progress in Berwyn.

“It’s a wonderful thing to see different people with their own unique perspectives and experiences shine as leaders in our community on so many levels – from neighborhood blocks to city hall and beyond,” said Crowther.

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