Touché’s notable leather fraternity explosions of racial puppet show, requires new leadership

Touché’s notable leather fraternity explosions of racial puppet show, requires new leadership

Rogers Park – A group of people of color in the leather lifestyle community have dropped Touché as their monthly meet-up and want the bar manager out after a racist puppet performance that the bar hosted last week.

The Midwest chapter of ONYX, a national fraternity of gay and bisexual men of color, announced the demands on Monday.

The bar, located at 6412 N. Clark St. for its 45th anniversary on November 1 and book the Jerry Halliday doll drive as entertainment. When the white performer walked out with a black doll named Sista Girl and began speaking “Blaccent” – a non-black voice he uses to imitate black slang – some people in the room immediately felt uneasy, they told Block Club.

Witnesses said Halliday made jokes about loving watermelon and being on the lookout, while a video of his performance showed Halliday asking director David Boyer to collect tips for the five black doll children.

Toche’s leaders have apologized for the performance. The bar was scheduled to hold a town hall at the incident Wednesday night, but was canceled due to a medical emergency.

“We hope that people will look back on the establishment’s 45-year history over its 45-minute tasteless performance,” said bar owner Chuck Ruddker previously. “If there is something we can do to support someone more in the future, we will be more than happy because we are one of the oldest gay bars in town and always have a very diverse crowd that welcomes women, people of color and people with disabilities.”

attributed to him: Introduction / Miguel Torres
Jerry Hallyday performing with his doll Sista Girl at Touché

According to the statement, Onyx leaders, who called Touché their home bar, suspended Boyer’s honorary membership for a period of time to be determined by the group. Boyer must complete educational activities to return.

The group said they would consider returning to Touché for bar nights if:

  • Boyer was fired or resigned.
  • Alternative Boyer agrees to maintain an environment free of racism, misogyny, transphobia, sexism and other harmful stereotypes or discrimination.
  • The bar donates at least $3,000 to a charity of choice ONYX Midwest that focuses on people of color.
  • The bar creates an event review committee, made up of leaders from all the groups for which Touché is home. The committee will have more representation than ONYX and review any events held at the pub.

The group also condemned the union’s management for not interfering to stop the show.

According to Onyx’s statement, “the damage caused is immeasurable as a result of the lack of response.”

Portions of the performance, which led to many audience exits, and the resignation of a waiter mid-shift, were shared in a video posted by audience member Philip Smith.

A video clip shows a white audience member speaking in the middle of the performance, telling the puppeteer “Everyone in the crowd thinks this is a bit weird for 2022.”

Halliday replied, speaking through the puppet, “Whoever wants this guy to shut up, make some noise [and] Applaud.” People can be heard clapping and booing the audience member who leaves shortly after.

Onyx’s statement called on these audience members to “complicity… in causing this damage when they sided with the performer.”

attributed to him: JerryHalliday.com
Sista Girl was shared on Jerry Halliday’s website but was removed after the doll was retired.

Halliday, who said this week that he will be permanently retiring from the Sista Girl character, denied allegations that he made jokes about the doll-loving watermelon. He said the doll has been a part of his business for two decades and he has not received any backlash.

“I’ve been doing my show for 20 years for thousands of people of all genders to stand up to standing ovations and rave comments in the press, and then all of a sudden a few people at Touché attacked me while the majority were there enjoying my show,” Halliday said. “The unilateral attacks on my actions have been greatly exaggerated and with many complete slanders.”

The Washington Post reviewed Halliday’s act in 1980 and referred to one of Halliday’s dolls as “a degrading and racist stereotype of a black whore.”

Ruddker said Halliday’s performance has not been scrutinized because he has been set to perform at previous Touché events where he has done well with the audience.

“We thought it would be fun to bring an artist from the past to include him at the holiday party, but his material doesn’t seem to change over time,” Ruddker said. “I wasn’t there, but to my understanding…people assaulted one of his black characters, and they weren’t amused.”

In an email sent last week to Touché customers, Boyer said the tape will work to be more inclusive.

“We have and will continue to work hard to make this space more welcoming for all people regardless of their racial, ethnic, gender or sexual identities,” Boyer wrote. “Your feedback is taken and appreciated if we were to make that a reality here. We couldn’t have stayed in business here for the past 45 years if it wasn’t a primary business purpose.”

Miguel Torres, the longtime sponsor of Touché who won the 2014 Mr. Chicago Leather Award, a competition hosted by the pub, said he left after an audience member was booed.

“It was very disturbing and disgusting,” Torres said. “I just looked at my boyfriend and said, ‘This is the first time I’ve ever felt insecure in this bar. Let’s go.'”

He said a group of people of color were standing outside the bar when Torres left, talking about what they saw.

“This bar is a safe place for a lot of us people from disadvantaged and marginalized communities, and it’s outrageous,” Torres said. “I am very disappointed and betrayed by this.”

Torres has worked with the pub for years to help its management make the space more inclusive through things like making sure its posters feature a diverse mix of people and posting signs that bigotry is not acceptable.

“I poured years of free community work into this bar, so this feels like a huge slap in the face. I screwed up all that work in one night,” Torres said.

attributed to him: Jake Whitish/Block Club Chicago
Joe Mama (in blue) leads protesters during the Drag for Change March in 2020.

This incident is the latest in a series of high-profile incidents against blacks within the LGBTQ community in Chicago over the past few years. In 2020, one of the city’s top performers was shot down by Berlin nightclub and Roscoe after black performers made allegations of racism.

In 2019, she organized protests after two racist incidents in Boystown. The first happened when Progress tried to implement a rap ban. That same weekend, a Beatnix antique and clothing store was found selling a Confederate flag jacket, leading former employees to make allegations of racism against the owner.

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