Lesbians launch boycott of popular Boystown nightclub

by Joseph Erbentraut

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday March 3, 2010

Allegations of sexism, racism and intimidation during a women's hip hop event at a popular Chicago nightclub has prompted a group of lesbians to initiate a boycott.

The claims stem from a Feb. 20 women's hip hop event Kid Sister headlined at Spin Nightclub. The lesbians maintain what transpired at the event was only the latest in a series of incidents that have put into question the bar's reputation as an establishment that welcomes women and men alike.

The boycott, initiated via a Facebook group last week, boasts more than 400 supporters and is led by organizer Seena and Andi Cruzatti, who promoted the event. They allege Spin manager Robert Hoffman was responsible for the evening's advertised female DJs' sets being pre-empted and contract terms ignored as part of a long-standing unwelcoming atmosphere in the bar toward women and people of color.

They further claim Hoffman made comments indicating he was uncomfortable with the evening's hip hop-oriented set list and the clientele he anticipated the music would attract, specifically he did not want to attract "those kinds of lesbians," referring to Cruzatti's marketing toward Latinas who live on the city's West Side.

"The severity of things that happened at Spin that night is pretty high," Cruzatti told EDGE. "This boils down to things that have happened that are not only illegal but immoral. We would like to see Spin open their doors and have a diverse night, and we want to make it known that this is an issue affecting the entire community, beyond Spin."

Boycott organizers would like to see Hoffman fired, and Cruzatti intends to pursue legal action against the club. On the Facebook group, several former Spin employees backed up the organizers' claims bar management has supported a white, male-centric atmosphere and mistreated them as well.

Spin owner David Gassman dismissed the boycott as a private contract dispute being overblown and was "baffled anyone would give credibility" to the accusations. He denies the claims Spin is neither woman or hip hop-friendly. And he said the bar fired the former employees who have alleged misconduct because they stole from the establishment.

"We've been welcoming women more than any other bar on the strip, since day one," Gassman told EDGE. "They've chosen to use an underhanded message to try and get publicity and sympathy, but it's not going to work. Just take a look at my track record."

Gassman's track record over 12 years of owning Spin includes the sponsorship of the Chicago Force women's tackle football team and women's golf events, among other women's teams and causes to the tune of "tens of thousands of dollars." Spin has also been home to Fish Tank, Cruzatti's monthly women's party, for some time, in addition to other female-geared events.

Boycott organizers remain focused, however, on steering customers away from Spin and toward other venues they describe as more welcoming located just down the street in Boystown, including Scarlet and Circuit. And they hope their example will encourage other bars and clubs to move toward inclusivity.

"Lots of people have gone through this with Spin - sexual orientation, discrimination, lack of payment - and no one has done anything about it," Cruzatti added. "Maybe by us speaking out, this won't happen at other bars."

Seena, administrator of the Facebook boycott, posted Gassman's phone number on Saturday, Feb. 27, and urged supporters to "make their thoughts and concerns known." She and Cruzatti may also plan a meeting to discuss the issue of women feeling left out from Boystown's Halsted Street strip. It is an issue made larger by the closing earlier this year of Star Gaze, one of the city's few remaining specifically lesbian bars. And while several welcoming bars call the suburbs home, women looking to stay within city limits face ever-decreasing nightlife options.

"Why should we have to leave our own community to have a good time with people in our own community?" Seena asked. "We're all under the same microscope to the outside world and we should bond together a bit stronger as family. It's sad to see other people wanting to divide our community rather than bring us together."

Joseph covers news, arts and entertainment and lives in Chicago. He is the assistant Chicago editor for The Huffington Post. Log on to www.joe-erbentraut.com to read more of his work.