Former state Rep. Larry McKeon, D-Chicago, passed away, leaving behind a rich legacy as a both a politician and activist.
McKeon, 63, made a historic mark on local politics. In 1996, he was elected to the Illinois House, becoming the state's first openly gay state legislator. He served as representative of the North Side's 13th District, which was the 34th prior to redistricting in 2002.
Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, announced on the House floor May 14 that McKeon died from a sudden stroke, reported the State-Journal Register.
The Illinois House of Representatives will hold an official remembrance of the life of former State Rep. Larry McKeon May 20 at approximately 11:30 a.m. in the House chamber. The public is welcome to attend. Those who cannot attend but would like to watch or listen to the proceedings live can do so by visiting ilga.gov/house/audvid.asp.
A memorial service for McKeon will be held in Chicago in June. Details will be reported as they become available.
McKeon, who was also HIV-positive, served as a state representative from 1997 to 2007. In the summer of 2006, McKeon announced his retirement. His health was declining due to his struggle with HIV and cancer. Democratic ward committeemen selected the openly gay and HIV-positive Greg Harris as McKeon's replacement.
Prior to becoming a state legislator, McKeon was Mayor Richard M. Daley's liaison to the LGBT community as the director of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations' Advisory Council on Gay and Lesbian Issues. In this role, he advocated for gay rights and worked closely with local politicians on issues close to the LGBT community.
Before entering the world of politics, McKeon served in a number of social service administration roles. He was also a veteran of the U.S. Army.
Several members of the LGBT community ( as well as allies ) have issued statements, either officially or to Windy City Times, about McKeon. Some of them are below:
'Larry McKeon spent 42 years of his life in public service. He simply loved helping people. As the state's first openly gay state legislator, he was a trailblazing pioneer and a tireless advocate. He spearheaded the drive to amend the Illinois Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination against sexual orientation and its passage in 2005 is a proud moment in our state's history. He has made a lasting difference in the lives of the people of Illinois and he will truly be missed. Our hearts and prayers go out to his family and friends.'— Gov. Rod Blagojevich
'While others said 'no,' Larry McKeon answered our call for an openly gay candidate to run for the 34th District of the Illinois General Assembly. Larry broke the gay glass ceiling of the Illinois legislature. His election paved the way for others in our community to follow.' — Rick Garcia, Equality Illinois
'The DNC mourns the passing of former Illinois State Representative Larry McKeon. State Representative McKeon was a trailblazer and icon for the LGBT community in Illinois and across the nation. McKeon broke an important barrier in Illinois by being elected as the first openly gay member to serve in the Illinois House of Representatives. He also used his status as a person living with HIV/AIDS to promote greater awareness and education on issues regarding HIV/AIDS. His courageous leadership was an inspiration to many, and he will be missed.' — Howard Dean, Democratic National Committee chairman
'I was proud to have had Larry McKeon as my state representative, and glad to have had him as my friend. He made history as Illinois' first openly gay state legislator and as its first openly HIV-positive one. He was the model of a public-spirited, responsive lawmaker, whose concerns encompassed all the people of his district. In public and private life, he was thoughtful in forming an opinion and courageous in voicing it, even though others might not agree with it. Before going to Springfield, he ably served the city and Mayor Daley as a knowledgeable, trusted bridge between local government and Chicago's sexual minority population. I valued his counsel, and I deeply regret his loss to us all. Chen Ooi joins me in expressing our sorrow.' — William B. Kelley, activist
'I had the honor of knowing Larry for almost 25 years, and he became part of my family, sharing Thanksgivings, Christmas and others holidays, as well as working with him to combat discrimination of all types.
Larry was an advocate for all people that were disenfranchised, and had a keen ability to listen to issues and develop sound public policy to try to address the inequities that people faced, be they gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer, or Asian, Indian, Muslim, American Indian, Vietnamese, victims of domestic violence or racism of any kind.
When Larry came to Chicago, he was the driving force, as a member of Horizons' board of directors, to the founding of Horizons Community Services' Anti-Violence Project, securing the initial funding that allowed the program to grow and flourish.
I spoke with Larry just a few weeks ago, and he seemed happy and excited that the session would be coming to an end soon, so that he, Squiggy and Hillary ( his rescued greyhounds ) could 'hit the road' and go fishing. I am sorry that he wasn't able to do that, but pleased that after all of his health issues, he did not suffer at the end. … We should all be so lucky.' — Laird Peterson, McKeon's former chief of staff
'We were very saddened to hear of the passing of State Rep. Larry McKeon. What an amazing, quiet man with a thirst for justice and equality for all people. We were impressed with his campaigning of human rights for gay Americans and for African Americans. We were equally impressed with his fight for the rights of working Americans as he served as the chair of the House Labor Committee, and his honesty regarding police brutality that caused him to demand video tape recordings during homicide interrogations. Let us also not forget his right for women's rights.
Larry one time told me, 'I speak up for women because there is a woman in each and every one of us.' That same day, he shared with me his concern for all because he had a responsibility for everyone who he served.
And to his family, may they know that there is a land called Heaven, where there is no more pain, sorrow and discrimination. May they find comfort in this fact. And may God walk with them through the coming weeks and months ahead.' — T.J. Williams, minister in training at the Riverside Church NYC and Trinity United Church of Christ, and partner Bradley Hauger
'Our community has lost a great friend and leader. Larry was always supportive of Howard Brown: he was there fighting for us when we wanted to build our facility on Sheridan Road and he has sought and obtained funding on a local and state level for many of Howard Brown's programs over the years. We were proud to present him with our Friend for Life Award in 2006. He will be missed.' — Michael Cook, Howard Brown president and CEO
'When Larry got wind of the fact that the Ryan White funding category under which the Chicago Area HIV Services Directory was being eliminated, he facilitated a meeting with Tom Hughes of the Illinois Department of Public Health to see what could be done, because he understood just how important the directory is to so many people. That's just the kind of person he was, truly selfless. When he really believed in something, or someone, and saw a need, he would step right up and do whatever he could to help. He led by example, and to me that is the mark of a true leader.' — Jeff Berry, Test Positive Aware Network
'Larry McKeon was a trailblazer for LGBT Americans, an officer who served our great city of Chicago honorably and a friend of mine. He will be remembered for his personal and political courage, and his outspoken efforts as a champion of progressive causes in Springfield. My thoughts and prayers are with Larry, his family and his friends.' — Sen. Barack Obama