Some community activists on Chicago's West Side have organized protests and are calling for the closure of La Cueva, a bar that hosts drag shows and attracts a largely Latino gay and transgender clientele. The bar has open since 1972 and has been described as the "oldest Latino drag club in the country."
Opponents, though, say that the bar is a site of illegal activity in a neighborhood that is home to many families. They say that La Cueva, a nondescript façade on a busy commercial stretch of West 26th Street, sells alcohol to minors, allows drug dealing on its premises and encourages prostitution in the neighborhood. "It's causing a lot of havoc and dismay to the residents of the area," said Raul Montes, Jr., who organized a protest and press conference outside of La Cueva. On nights that the bar is open, he said, there are "transsexuals and transvestites on every corner," with "young kids picking them up." He claimed that he recently was the subject of attempted solicitation by a group of people he thought to be transgender women. "It was disgusting," he said.
Ruben Lechuga, who manages La Cueva and owns the building it is housed in, denied the protesters' charges. "We don't have any problems inside," he said, and when illegal activity is apparent out front, "we call the police." Lechuga said that the bar had been in its Little Village location for 30 years with no problems from the neighborhood. "I go to the CAPS [ Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy ] meetings every month," he said, referring to Chicago's community policing initiative.
La Cueva is located in Little Village, in the heart of the city's working-class Mexican community. The club has been "recognized for providing a welcoming space for Latino LGBT people" and "helping to drop macho and homophobic attitudes toward transgender and gay Latinos," Color Lines reported in 2006. "It's become this zone of tolerance where you have gay people and straight people," said Cuban-American lesbian journalist Achy Obejas.
More as this story develops ...