In a move that will likely send shock waves through the local LGBT community, pro-LGBTQ organization Equality Illinois is no longer employing Rick Garcia as its director of public policy.
[ Click here to see Garcia's response: www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/ARTICLE.php ]
Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov confirmed the news during a conversation with Windy City Times. He said that during a Dec. 17 conference call with "key stakeholders to outline an agenda for Equality Illinois with our priorities for 2011. We announced that we have to strengthen our team for all the challenges that come ahead, including protecting civil unions and empowering our community about civil unions. And we all announced that Rick Garcia is no longer employed with Equality Illinois."
Cherkasov added that "we will begin a new search process right after the holidays to hire someone who will help us get to our next milestone." When asked about the qualities he would want in Garcia's successor, Cherkasov said he would like "somebody who is skilled, experienced and professionalsomebody who would develop strong relationships with all the key stakeholders in the community, not only with our elected officials, but with our partner organizations as well as communities of color, the transgender community, women...every segment of our community."
Garcia's contribution to the advancement of gay rights in Illinois is undeniable. He was a key figure in the passages of both the amendment of the state's human-rights act that includes sexual orientation and gender identity as well as the civil-unions bill that recently passed through the Illinois General Assembly.
When asked to describe Garcia, Cherkasov said that he is "a passionate advocate. He did a lot for our movement. He is outspoken and unafraid and he, in his heart of hearts, really believed in full equality for the LGBT community. Wherever his next journey takes him, I wish him every success."
Regarding civil unions, Cherkasov added that Equality Illinois is holding 12 community forums "in every corner of the state" over the 120 days after the bill passed the state Senate Dec. 1. There was one Dec. 16 at Center on Halsted.
He said that Equality Illinois is unveiling an "aggressive" campaign that "will educate and empower our community about civil unions. We are also focusing on ... [ ensuring ] that the legislation intended to provide equal treatment for same-sex couples in Illinois. We're going to closely scrutinize and follow the implementation of civil unions, and make sure the legislators' intent is carried out.
"We are also going to work with our allies in the communities of faith and color to make sure people understand what relationship recognition means and doesn't mean."
Windy City Times will have more news on these developments as they happen.
Equality Illinois press statement, Dec. 17, 2010
CHICAGO - Equality Illinois began the process of announcing its strategic priorities in the wake of civil unions' passage.
This morning, CEO Bernard Cherkasov and Board President Jeremy Gottschalk briefed community leaders and key stakeholders on the organization's assertive plan for moving forward in the calendar year 2011. The plan includes strategies for education and empowering the LGBT community on civil unions, on building bridges with our allies, and on protecting newly-passed civil unions from possible attacks. Aside from civil unions, the plan will focus on transgender equality, on partnerships with communities of color, and on outreach to communities of faith, among other issues.
"Passing civil unions was a victory long-fought and hard-won, but we cannot rest on those laurels," - said Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois. "We will continue to fight hard to protect them, and we will continue our focus on transgender equality, on discrimination issues, and on other issues. EQIL will continue, as always, to be a strong independent organization."
The organization announced a strong showing of support from funders and donors of the LGBT equality movement. Among the new grants, Equality Illinois received a grant for $100,000 from Gill Foundation and State Equality Fund.
"The strong showing of support from funders and donors is an endorsement of our organization's direction," - said Jeremy Gottschalk, Board of Directors President. "Particularly, the State Equality Fund grant from the Gill Foundation is a seal of approval for Equality Illinois' vision and mission."
The organization also announced the transition of Rick Garcia from Equality Illinois. "Rick is a passionate advocate who has done a lot for our movement, and we wish him every success in his future endeavors," said Bernard Cherkasov.
Community leaders responded positively to Equality Illinois' direction, expressing unequivocal support for the organization's new plans and strategic approach.
"Equality Illinois has set forth an ambitious agenda for 2011 and with an expansion of its work with in the broader LGBT and ally community the organization will certainly be successful," said Mary Morten, former mayoral liaison and Planned Parentood PAC board member.
"A strategy on protecting every aspect of Civil Unions is something that needs to be done collaboratively and I am glad there is a policy driven team in place to do it, along with a strong integrated commitment from all corners of the community," said State Representative Sara Feigenholtz.
"Equality Illinois has outlined a strong vision for moving forward and has a strong team in place to accomplish it. I look forward to working with EQIL on this." Ann Hilton Fisher, Executive Director of AIDS Legal Council of Chicago.
"Equality Illinois has made great strides under the direction of Board Chairman Jeremy Gottschalk and Chief Executive Officer Bernard Cherkasov. Their vision for the future of the organization and their 2011 education program represent a solid approach to effecting change throughout the state to secure full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. I look forward to working with their new Policy Director in the coming year," said Clark Pellett
"With it's rich history of advocacy for the equal rights of the LGBT community and it's most recent success in securing rights for all of us in Illinois, we are confident in Equality Illinois and it's leadership and it's vision for the future - a bright future indeed for the LGBT community and all of Illinois. We proudly stand by Equality Illinois as it has stood by us and our community and look forward to working together to promote the health and wellness of our shared community, including securing equal rights and equal access to quality healthcare for all." Jamal M. Edwards, JD, President & CEO of Howard Brown Health Center.