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At annual gala, Equality Illinois looks ahead to 2020
by Matt Simonette

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As numerous speakers appeared onstage at Equality Illinois's annual gala, held Feb. 1 at the Chicago Hilton and Towers, many uttered the same observation: "What a difference a year makes."

Indeed, the past year has seen many changes within the city and state's political landscape. The city of Chicago elected its first openly lesbian mayor, for example, and a requirement that Illinois schools include LGBT-history within their curriculums became the law of the land.

Gov. JB Pritzker provided introductory remarks, saying he hoped "Illinois will serve as a beacon of hope for the world's LGBTQ-plus community."

Pritzker also mentioned the number of openly LGBT persons throughout his administration; Equality Illinois CEO Brian Johnson later added that the governor had, indeed, built "the queerest administration in Illinois history."

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot gave keynote remarks, reflecting on all that had changed for her since she'd attended the 2019 gala. At the time, she was one of many candidates competing to be mayor.

"The idea that I was viable was never discussed," Lightfoot recalled. But she added that Equality Illinois' endorsement for her candidacy was instrumental in gradually changing the perception of her viability over subsequent weeks.

"Equality Illinois refused to write me off," she added.

The mayor discussed the January meeting during which she chastised City Council members who had invoked anti-LGBT stereotypes to question a proposal for set-asides for LGBT-owned businesses in the city—an effort that she has been vigorously backing.

"I was furious, but I was also heartsick that I needed to speak," Lightfoot said. "In this time, in this moment, I will not be silent."

Johnson said that Equality Illinois had three principal goals for the year ahead. Among those was a law requiring LGBT-affirming sex-education in Illinois; the state is among 21 states without any statewide sex-education requirements.

The organization will also work to get LGBT Illinoisans on boards and commissions throughout the state, where they can potentially add influence to institutions ranging from schools to the state's prison system. Lastly, Johnson added, Equality Illinois would fortify its support for LGBT-rights organizations outside of the Chicago region, to strengthen civic power for the state's other LGBT communities.

One such organization, Carbondale-based Rainbow Cafe, was recognized by Equality Illinois Feb. 1 and awarded its 2020 Organization Award. Rainbow Cafe, which provides resources for downstate LGBT youth, gives those youth "the affirmation they deserve," said Planned Parenthood President and CEO Jennifer Welch.

Chicago Reader Publisher ( and Windy City Times owner ) Tracy Baim was recognized with Equality Illinois' 2020 Freedom Award for her work as a journalist, historian and activist. In her remarks, she acknowledged the longtime support of her family but recalled that many LGBT folks throughout the AIDS crisis of the '80s were forced to form new families-of-choice.

While overall acceptance of the LGBT community has evolved, Baim said, the impetus now falls on the community itself to make sure that all of its members have access, resources and acceptance.

"Now, we have to be a little bit more conscious about creating family for those in our community who might need family," she added.

Besides Pritzker and Lightfoot, elected and appointed officials, as well as candidates, in attendance included Illinois House Majority Leader and state Rep. Greg Harris; state Reps. Kelly Cassidy, Lamont Robinson, Sam Yingling, Kathleen Willis, Anna Moeller, Rita Mayfield, Lindsey LaPointe, Karina Villa, Diane Pappas, Terra Costa Howard, Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, Ann Williams, Will Guzzardi and Jehan Gordon-Booth; state Sens. Christina Castro, Heather Steans, Robert Peters, Ram Villivalam and Sara Feigenholtz; Illinois Senate President Don Harmon; U.S. Reps. Mike Quigley, Raja Krishnamoorthi and Sean Casten; Judge Mike McHale; Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx, as well as one of her opponents, Bill Conway; and Cook County Commissioners Kevin Morrison, Bridget Degnen and Bridget Gainer.

Also in attendance were Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia; Alds. Scott Waguespack, James Cappleman, Matt Martin and Tom Tunney; State Board of Education Chair Darren Reisberg; Hammond, Indiana, City Councilman Barry Tyler Jr.; candidate for Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Jacob Meister; candidate for Illinois House 12th District representative Yoni Pizer; Illinois Department of Human Rights Director Jim Bennett; Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi; and former state Rep. Ellis Levin.

Other attendees included Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner Josina Morita; former state Sen. Toi Hutchinson; Chicago Commission on Human Rights Commissioner Mona Noriega; East Aurora School Board Member Alex Arroyo; Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle; Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul; former Gov. Pat Quinn; and Lieutenant Gov. Juliana Stratton.

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