Chicago Black-led Businesses That Support and Empower LGBTQ+ Persons
According to the Healthy Chicago Databook released by the Chicago Department of Public Health in March 2018, 7.5% of all Chicagoans identify as LGBTQ+. Of that population, 30% of all LGBTQ+ Chicagoans are African American/Black. In recent years, Black businesses and non-profit organizations have opened to cater to this underserved population.
In 2020, former corporate attorney Angela Barnes and events spaces coordinator and revenue auditor Renauda Riddle opened the Black, Queer, Women-Owned, 2022 James Beard Award Finalist, Nobody’s Darling Bar on the North Side of Chicago to provide a safe space for celebration and socialization.
“I think Angela and I both saw the need for Black Queer spaces that are women-centered,” said Riddle. Inspired by a poem by Alice Walker, “Be Nobody’s Darling,” the two women intentionally offer a welcoming space that promotes empowerment, pride and community.
“What we wanted to do was create a space where people actually did feel welcomed, and they actually did feel like ‘we want you to be here, and we value you.’ We know that you have choices.” said Barnes.
Brave Space Alliance
Brave Space Alliance in Hyde Park is one of few non-profit organizations dedicated to fulfilling the overall needs of Black LGBTQ+ individuals.
Channyn Lynne Parker, CEO of Brave Space Alliance, recognizes the gaps in holistic care for Black LGBTQ+ persons.
“There are so few LGBTQ+ social services or advocacy networks that exist on the south side of Chicago. Those that do, are not solely dedicated to wraparound services,” said Parker.
Brave Space Alliance addresses society’s social and financial inequities that affect Black LGBTQ+ persons who face intersectional discrimination of being Black, LGBTQ+, and in need of housing or food security.
The Mission: Empowering People and Community
Intending to empower, support and advocate for Black LGBTQ+ persons, Brave Space Alliance personifies what it means to be proud with dignity. Brave Space Alliance operates under a dignity-first model where services are provided following five pillars of dignity in health, housing, food, advocacy and, in unfortunate cases, death.
“Our community members can access us at no cost. They can take advantage of our food pantry, our drop-in services, where we offer haircuts, and beauty services, along with HIV testing and some linkage referrals.
“We also have our dignity suite, which is our gender-affirming room where individuals can pick up masculine and feminine clothing items and other self-care items such as hair, toiletries and makeup,” said Parker.
By providing services that address social determinants of health affecting daily life, members can better focus on other areas of their overall well-being, such as finding gainful employment or taking required medication, giving them greater opportunities to live a full, healthy and happy life. “Brave Space Alliance believes when an individual feels good, they do good,” Parker said.
At Nobody’s Darling, weekly programming fosters a sense of much-needed community. Customers can indulge in a Happy Hour three times a week at the bar featuring Black-owned and Women-owned spirits.
Additionally, Nobody’s Darling offers a Sunday Tea with a DJ, a Friends’ mixer and a singles’ mixer that occurs once a month that intends to give identifying patrons the opportunity to commune and enjoy tasty, uniquely-crafted cocktails such as the Southside Lychee Martini 2.0 or the Midnight Magnolia with them in mind.
“When you come into the space, you want the space to be clean, and you want it to look nice, all the things that we feel like we deserve, and we feel like our community deserves and people who look like us. That’s what they deserve.” Said Barnes.
The Challenges: Funding and Growth
While these trailblazers continue to lead organizations dedicated to serving Black individuals of the LGBTQ+ community, these endeavors come with challenges.
For Illinois non-profit organizations like Brave Space Alliance that offer an array of services that are either isolated or completely non-existent at larger institutions, funding can be hard to come by.
“We need general operating supports. We need for individuals to think creatively about what healthcare looks like and include us in the provision of those services in terms of funding at least,” said Parker.
When smaller, more niche organizations like Brave Space Alliance are left out of federal, state and local legislative funding, it creates a gap that leaves these organizations vulnerable.
Parker explains, “Illinois offers less than one million dollars in funds to non-HIV-related services. That’s a problem because not every person within our community is experiencing living with HIV. And while we know that that’s a big issue within our community, it is not the sole issue. So, when dollars are not being allocated beyond HIV, we Brave Space, our community members suffer.”
These organizations rely on their cash reserves and private donors who have helped keep them afloat and continue to provide needed services to the LGBTQ+ community.
When Black-owned businesses expand and grow within the city, challenges arise with visibility and finding talent and support for their growing businesses.
“The only challenge that we’re constantly [facing] is just trying to add more team members that look like the community,” said Riddle.
Nobody’s Darling is also growing out its business at its current location while also setting sights on the southside of Chicago to become more accessible to the residents who live on that side of town.
Despite having yet to gain explicit experience in the hospitality and restaurant industry, Angela and Renauda have compiled a strong network of individuals combined with their expertise in their respective fields to alleviate some of the growing pains that come with founding a new business.
“There are probably a lot of people who are surprised that we’re able to open. That was interesting. Since that time, I think that people are really happy that we’re here. Because it’s definitely — there was a need,” said Barnes.
The Goal: Black Pride and Supporting One Another
For these organizations, Black Pride is more than a month of celebration. It’s a daily act of embracing what it means to be proud and support each other.
“Black pride movements began as a way to provide LGBT people an alternative to the white, majority, mainstream LGBT movement that we can say either consciously or unconsciously ignored the real rich history that Black people have brought to the LGBT experience,” said Parker.
While they continue to thrive with the support of people who utilize their services, employees and adjacent organizations, they recognize that more work still needs to be done.
“We need to, I think, as a community, really be very vocal about resources being funneled to the South Side, to the West Side, to support the LGBTQ community that is on the South and West Side. Those communities shouldn’t have to take trains and buses to the north side to receive services, or to go to bars, or to feel comfortable amongst community,” said Barnes.
Nobody’s Darling bar does fundraisers for Brave Space Alliance and organizations like Affinity to encourage continuous support and advocacy for these networks to continue their work in the community and broaden their outreach via social media, outreach programs and the maintenance of services.
“We’re not competing; we are inviting folks into the network of help. Because we know that when we all get together with community in mind, then that only produces best outcomes for the individuals who depend on our services,” said Parker.
For more information about Brave Space Alliance, visit www.bravespacealliance.org for more ways to get involved via partnerships, volunteer opportunities, career opportunities and donations. You can follow Brave Space Alliance on social media at @BraveSpaceAlliance
For more information about Nobody’s Darling, visit www.nobodysdarlingbar.com. You can follow Nobody’s Darling on social media at @Nobodysdarlingbar