Harry Osterman has been alderman for the 48th Ward since 2011, serving parts of Andersonville, Uptown and Edgewater. For 11 years before being elected alderman, Osterman was the state representative for the 14th District.
Growing up in Edgewater, Osterman is the son of community activist and alderwoman Kathy Osterman, who was inducted posthumously into The Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame as a "friend of the community" in the '90s. Osterman himself is a self-described "strong supporter of the LGBTQ community" and, over the course of his political career, has introduced a resolution calling for the end of the ban on blood donations from gay men and supported marriage equality.
Windy City Times: What words would you use to describe the 48th Ward?
Ald. Harry Osterman: I think, "inclusive" and "diverse." Our community's always been a place that welcomes people from every background, every religion, every sexual orientation. It's very much in the DNA of who we are as a community. I try to use my leadership role to help foster that within our community: a place where everyone feels welcome and safe.
WCT: What are some of your favorite activities that you like to do with your family in the ward?
Osterman: We live in an amazing community! Last weekend, my wife and I went up to Andersonville; just walking on a warm, winter day, going to businesses and having lunch. Our three wonderful kids are a little older and can be by themselves, but we use the Broadway Armory Park, a building [in which] I worked to provide more programs for young people and for seniors. So, I to try to not get in my car as much as possible in the community, whether it's riding on the lakefront in summertime or going to the beach that's named after my mom. I try to make sure to remind folks to spend money locally to help the businesses that make our neighborhood what it is.
WCT: Speaking of your mother, how has her activism influenced your own, and what do you do to honor her in that regard?
Osterman: As a young teenager growing up in the '80s, I saw her advocacy for the Human Rights Ordinance for city council to gain protection for the gay and lesbian community that weren't there before. And I saw her work with people from a broad spectrum to get that passed.
So that's been an inspiration to me. In addition to calling people when I was an Alderman to pass marriage equality, we passed the Human Rights Act with protections to LGBT community early in my tenure in Springfield. I've always remembered that, always remembered the community and their support of her.
WCT: What would you say is your vision for the LGBTQ community in 2019?
Osterman: I want to make sure that our community continues to be diverse and that's also with housing. Looking down the road, trying to create some LGBTQ senior housing in our community, so that people who live here don't get forced out because of high property taxes. [Another] significant thing is the new report that came out on health within the LGBTQ community, which was a really good blueprint for future health for the community moving forward…trying to analyze that. We're going to have a new mayor and new leadership in the city council. Part of my goal is to make sure that with that transition, those findings and goals on health don't fall by the wayside as we look for funding priorities for people living with HIV and AIDS, anti-bullying programs and programs for youth.
WCT: One of your main priorities is public safety and a part of that has been increasing the amount of the police on the street. What would you recommend to have a better relationship between police and people of color, and people of color in the transgender community in particular?
Osterman: Our neighborhood over the last eight years has made incredible strides in improving safety. The progress has been made by working closely with the police and sharing information. But, there has been erosion in the confidence and trust of the police, specifically in minority communities on the south and west side for many years.
As a member of the public safety committee, I'm very engaged in trying to help rebuild that trust. So, I've proposed an ordinance with Ald. Roderick Sawyer ( 6th Ward ) and many groups that call for civilian oversight of the police department that would give community residents an active role in the direction of the department. Locally, I think it's working with our local commanders to continue to have dialogues with the LGBTQ community about issues of safety and of hate crimes.
WCT: You've also listed education as one of your top priorities?
Osterman: I really want everyone in our neighborhood to have confidence that when they send their kids to the local public school, it's going to provide them with a great education. What I tried to do is develop a strong relationship with the principals and also between schools together, making sure that every single child in our community gets a great education that prepares them for life. For Senn, [for instance], it's making sure it's a great high school where kids can go there and move on to college. Our schools are thriving and are doing great things and it also keeps families within our community.
WCT: What are your thoughts on a school that would be designed specifically for LGBTQ students, similar to the Harvey Milk School in New York?
Osterman: I think I'm very open to that. What I've seen similarly though, in grade school through high school, is an environment within the schools where everyone, regardless of their orientation, their background, their religion, is welcome. Senn is one of the most diverse schools in the city; LGBTQ youth that are at Senn are a part of the fabric of the school. So, I'm open to a school similar to the Harvey Milk School, would love to have it in our community, but I also want to make sure that our schools that we have are very open and share differences, and do so in a thoughtful way. Specifically, with bullying, making sure that LGBTQ youth don't feel concerned about being at school.
WCT: And your thoughts on mandatory LGBT-inclusive education in Chicago public schools? While I think it kind of speaks to what you were saying in terms of making sure everybody feels safe in the environment that they're in, I think historical representation and inclusion is a part of that, which actually influences the ability to feel safe.
Osterman: I totally agree. It's making sure everyone understands who everyone else is and respecting who they are as people. The state of Illinois, if I'm not mistaken, passed a law this last year that would require more education be provided about LGBTQ historic events within the curriculum.
WCT: I believe they did.
Osterman: We're going to have a new head of CPS, so I think that's something absolutely that I'd be happy to take a look at and try to champion further within CPS. Overall, I'm blessed to represent an incredibly diverse community, I want to use my leadership role to continue the progress that we've made, and I'm open always to suggestions. A lot of our effort, and all of our success, has been done in partnership. It's not just me or my staff, it's what we can do as a community.
See harryosterman.org .