Chicago’s Touche bar in controversy after racist puppet show

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On Tuesday, puppeteer Jerry Halliday took out one of his puppets during a show celebrating Touché’s 45th anniversary and put on a performance that onlookers called racist and transphobic — and which has since plunged the bar into turmoil. controversy.

One of four featured on Halliday’s website, the show’s puppet was named “Sista Girl” and resembled a black woman. The act prompted those present to speak up – two of them calling it a “huge slap in the face” – and even kicked out a bartender in the middle of his shift.

Touché manager David Boyer issued a statement on the bar’s Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts on Wednesday in which he apologized.

“(Tuesday) during Touché’s 45th birthday celebration, puppeteer Jerry Halliday included racist and transphobic puppets and jokes in his act. We deeply regret that we did not verify the artist prior to the event,” the statement read. “We apologize for not reacting and stopping the show. People were hurt by his words. Racism and transphobia are bad, we have to do better.

On Touché’s site, the bar’s 45th anniversary lineup included a description of Halliday’s show, which it hosted alongside “its colorful cast of characters” to “greet our Lincoln Avenue debut”. Halliday did not return a request for comment.

On Twitter, Philip Smith shared his experience attending the show at Rogers Park’s gay leather bar, explaining that patrons were asked not to record during the puppeteer’s act. However, he defied the request once he saw the puppet Halliday had brought.

“When the show started, what came to mind was, ‘How can I be an ally right now?'” Smith told the Tribune. “I’ve said this in my (Twitter) feed, but victims of racism are often told that they’re exaggerating or being overly sensitive, or cancel culture is invoked as a way to diminish their experiences.”

The performer made dated jokes, Smith said, some of which said oversexualized black women.

“Once the shock passed, it was sad and disappointing because you hope people know better at this point. It was also frustrating because the general manager was sitting at a table right in front of the stage,” said said Smith.

In videos shared by Smith on Twitter, attendees can be heard applauding Halliday after someone from the audience confronted him, saying, “Everyone in the crowd thinks it’s a little weird for 2022.”

Mike Geier, the participant who challenged Halliday, told the Tribune that he initially didn’t want to face the puppeteer. He said he initially spoke to people near the front door and noticed people leaving and looking disturbed.

“I noticed what was happening on stage. I noticed a few other people around the bar with kinda pained faces, so I was just walking around and just checking in with my friends. (I) wasn’t engaging intentionally with the puppeteer. He kind of called me. A lot of people were talking – I don’t know why he chose me to talk and have quiet conversations.

He said that, although not audible in Smith’s videos, he told Halliday he thought it was inappropriate for a white man to play with a black puppet.

“All my friends were people of color who were there to have a good time at a bar they like,” Geier said. “And they felt really uncomfortable and visibly upset and that’s what really upset me a little bit because I was putting myself in their shoes and seeing how awful it was.”

Miguel Torres, Touché’s 2014 Mr. Chicago Leather, was at Touché on Tuesday night, but closed his rating and left during Halliday’s performance.

Torres, a frequent patron, told the Tribune that the performance “felt like a huge slap in the face to the community, from all those people and all the marginalized groups who have dedicated their free time, energy and soul to making of this bar what it is. has been.”

“Old-fashioned leather bars tend to be very masculine and that sort of thing, so over the years we’ve guided that management, done a lot of work to make sure the posters weren’t old white men, that we had representation,” Torres said.

“This guy had this puppet show, and he just released this African American doll called ‘Sista Girl’ and this white male started doing these voices, racist voices, and played on all the stereotypes that you hope to have eradicated. It was just extremely upsetting,” he said.

Touché bartender Cris Bleaux walked out and quit in the middle of his shift on Tuesday after feeling uncomfortable with the jokes Halliday was making.

“My job that night was to… enjoy it, people, and make them feel good, affirmed and seen,” the former bartender told the Tribune. “And then my night dramatically did a 180 in 45 minutes to an hour.”

He said he texted a friend during his shift, saying, “Hey, I gotta go.”

“It’s a really unpleasant, ugly, really disappointing situation,” Bleaux said.

“I really feel like that was a huge slap in the face for a lot of communities, especially those two,” he said, referring to people of color and transgender and non-binary people, ” whereas there are racist jokes and transphobic jokes.”

In his statement, Boyer highlighted the bar’s 45-year history and asked patrons to let them prove their resolve and not let controversy overshadow the service he has provided to the community. Touché, Boyer said, is planning a community gathering at the Leather Archives & Museum at 7 p.m. on Nov. 9 so community members can voice their concerns and discuss ways to move forward.

But for some participants, the declaration did not go far enough. Smith called it a “standard apology” and “really disappointing”, and Geier said it was “very formulaic”.

“A statement came out and, as expected, it was an apology bingo, what we call — it was all keywords,” Torres said of the apology. “I don’t see many ways outside of management to step down immediately for the community to heal.”

“I don’t know what Touché’s future will be. But I think what it is right now is not OK, and I think to act like that is like a misstep or a confusion or a misunderstanding, it’s really rude,” said Bles.

“I think Chicago has had, over the past two years, a history of happenings in queer spaces that hasn’t always been really assertive and sometimes dangerous,” Bleaux added.

Smith also sees the city as a space where there is a constant need for growth in diversity and inclusiveness, especially in recent years.

“Chicago, I think in particular, is the epicenter of a lot of discussion about inclusivity in LGBTQ spaces and how we need to make black people and people of color feel like they belong in spaces that are historically invaded. by gay white men and their interests,” he said.

The Touché controversy follows another Chicago social space: On Tuesday, Bucktown live music group The Hideout announced it would close for the rest of the year after a former employee shared allegations of a toxic work environment.

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