Protestors Rally Outside Vintage Store Boho Barbie Ken Over ‘Transphobic’ Posts

A group of approximately 30 community members gathered outside of Rogers Park resale store Boho Barbie Ken located at 1736 W. Greenleaf Ave. May 7 to protest “hateful, transphobic” comments posted by the owner’s fiancé on Facebook. 

A group of approximately 30 community members gathered outside of Rogers Park resale store Boho Barbie Ken located at 1736 W. Greenleaf Ave. May 7 to protest “hateful, transphobic” comments posted by the owner’s fiancé on Facebook. 

The owner, Anna Maria Skalicki, has run the store alongside her fiancé Xander Kazanowski since March 10, The Phoenix previously reported

Throughout the protest, activists handed out flyers depicting a collage of Kazanowski’s recent posts which include satirical memes pertaining to transgender-related issues, personal opinions against COVID-19 vaccinations, seed oils and birth control. 

“I’ve never hurt anyone,” said Kazanowski, 22. “I think it’s very childish to say words hurt people. There’s not an action I’ve done that someone could point to and say, ‘You’ve hurt me.’”

Throughout the near-three-hour protest, Kazanowski stood outside the door of Boho Barbie Ken and livestreamed the events to a group of around 15 watching on Facebook. Both of these were safety measures to protect him and his family sitting inside the shop, according to Kazanowski.

Wendy Robb was among the protestors. She said Kazanowski’s statements directly contradict the community values of Rogers Park, where she has lived since 2008.

“Rogers Park is the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in the city — it’s why I live here,” Robb said. “The kind of outright bigotry and hypocrisy that I’ve seen on the owner’s Facebook makes me ill. And yes, free speech. But free speech has consequences.”

Protestors gathered with posters defending transgender rights. (Austin Hojdar / The Phoenix)

The protest is the second of two in what is likely to become a recurring Sunday event, said organizer Karen Rose, who declined to publicly share their last name due to privacy concerns. The first protest occurred May 1 and featured tense back-and-forth chanting between Kazanowski and protestors, eventually leading to one group member spitting on Kazanowski, which is documented on his livestream

During one interaction at the first protest, the mother of a transgender child identified herself. Kazanowski responded by telling the protestor she “failed as a parent,” which is also documented on his livestream.

Rex Cassidy, a protestor who identifies as transgender, became aware of the protest through neighborhood Facebook groups. They said the exchange between Kazanowski and the mother was one of the most hurtful to watch throughout the protest and brought them to tears.

“I would like people to know that that is not welcome and this diversity is what makes Rogers Park beautiful,” Cassidy said. 

Kazanowski defended his statement, stating the protestor was using their child as a “political battering ram,” adding that questioning young people shouldn’t be forced into “chemical castration.” 

Pride flags were held and worn by many of the protestors. (Austin Hojdar / The Phoenix)

Kazanowski and Skalicki both said they draw their beliefs from their Christian identity, which Kazanowski said he felt was “mocked.” Kazanowski said he no longer attends church services because he believes in an “individualized approach” to religion. Instead, he said he relies on the Bible’s teachings of gender roles to support his beliefs. 

“I definitely see men pretending to be women as the definition of ungodly and hedonistic,” Kazanowski said. “I’m pro-woman, I’m not necessarily anti-trans or whatever, but I’m pro-women’s spaces, and I don’t think men should be encroaching upon women’s spaces.”

Kazanowski said defending masculinity has become a central issue for him since having a daughter. 

“Religion and gender identity coincide,” Kazanowski said. “The Bible speaks a lot about how you should treat women and how you should treat your wife.”

He continued, “I know that in my heart I’m supposed to be the rock and the leader and guide us to truth and just be the one who doesn’t get pushed around and doesn’t submit to the will of others.”

Rose researched the owners once they came to Rogers Park. They said they do this with all new businesses moving in to make sure they’re “safe” for queer members of the community. After scrolling through the store’s instagram, they learned of a portrait of Confederate general Robert E. Lee being sold, which they said prompted the protest initiative. 

Framed posters of paintings are sold alongside other items at Boho Barbie Ken. (Austin Hojdar / The Phoenix)

“It’s not just transphobia he’s bringing into the neighborhood but racism,” Rose said. “We have a very diverse neighborhood, that’s dangerous.”

A second organizer, Gerardo Marciano, said the protest was brought together to protect transgender neighbors.

“This is about the safety of our community,” Marciano said. “We are here because we care and to keep Rogers Park safe. We’ve seen around the world what can happen to trans people, and this could happen here, and we don’t want that.”

Kazanowski said the May 7 protest was ”boring” compared to the one May 1, with no chants or lengthy back-and-forths between Kazanowski and protestors.

In one of a few interactions, Kazanowski told the group, “There’s lessons to be learned. When you don’t have purpose, you end up like this.”

“If your purpose is to scream to Facebook and sell junk, it’s not a great purpose,” responded one protestor who declined to be interviewed. 

Protestors stood outside of the storefront and handed out fliers to passersby. (Austin Hojdar / The Phoenix)

Skalicki, the store’s owner, said the pair were unaware of the “political sphere” surrounding their business, which made the protests a shock for the couple.

“They have every right to do this as much as we have every right to share our beliefs,” said Skalicki, 23. “I’m not ashamed of our faith, I’m not ashamed of the truths that we believe.”

The couple said their business is now being hit with fake reviews from customers who have never shopped at their store. The store currently has a 4.8 out of 5 star rating on Google and the pair have had fraudulent one star reviews taken down, Kazanowski said. 

Chicago native and former Rogers Park resident Victoria M., who declined to share her last name due to ridiculing, learned of the protest through an article by Block Club Chicago. She said the protestors’ response was a forceful way of silencing free speech.

“If you don’t agree with him, don’t follow him, if you don’t agree with him, don’t shop at his store,” Victoria said. “But you have no right to shut down his ability to make a living for himself and his family. I can’t think of what kind of piece of crap person you have to be to want to ruin someone’s life because their ideas do not fit with your own.”

Anna Maria Skalicki and Xander Kazanowski have a four-month-old daughter. (Austin Hojdar / The Phoenix)

Steven I., a Chicago resident who declined to share his last name for privacy reasons, echoed a concern for free speech. 

“It’s not a question of safety, they want to ideologically sanitize the neighborhood and that’s dangerous,” Steven said.

Loyola class of 2013 alumnus Nell Seggerson teaches social studies at Rogers Park’s Senn High School. For Seggerson, ensuring the community’s youth see adults speaking out against “hateful, transphobic” rhetoric is what compelled them to protest.

“As a queer teacher, so many of my students are hurting more than I’ve ever experienced, so I want to make sure people see adults they know,” Seggerson said. 

Nell Seggerson stood at the protest from start to finish. (Austin Hojdar / The Phoenix)

Katie Parlow, Sasha Evrutina and Yuzu Dixon passed by the protest after getting brunch at Honeybear Cafe. The three aren’t local to Rogers Park but expressed support for the group of protestors. 

“It seems like a really nice area,” said Dixon, 32. “It’s not crazy and seems cozy, and it’s sad to hear part of the community is not being welcomed by the other part of the community. It’s such a big loss on everyone’s end.”

As the protest concluded, Kazanowski gave blank poster boards to protestors as they left. He said Boho Barbie Ken will donate some items to community members in need of clothing, free of charge.

Kazanowski said after listening back to the livestream, he believes he could have delivered his message differently.

“I have to be my greatest criticizer,” Kazanowski said. “I just know that yes, certain valid things were said. Certain things were superfluous and definitely not needed or didn’t add value or retracted from my statements.”

The group of protestors intends to return to the store next Sunday at 1:30 p.m. The goal is to continue the protests until the two can’t pay their rent and have to move, according to Rose. 

“There’s enough hate in this country and the surrounding suburbs,” Rose said. “But this is our neighborhood. This is our community and we’re just not going to see this happen.”

Skalicki and Kazanowski said they have no intention of relocating or being “bullied out” of the area.

Boho Barbie Ken is open Wednesday through Sunday. (Austin Hojdar / The Phoenix)
Hanna Houser

Hanna Houser