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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Bennett to be new state Human Rights director
by Matt Simonette
2019-01-17

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Longtime activist and former Lambda Legal Midwest Regional Director James Bennett was named by Gov. J.B. Pritzker as the state's new Department of Human Rights Director.

A statement from Pritzker noted that, during his 12-year tenure at Lambda Legal, Bennett, who is gay, was a lead strategist in the organization's Illinois and Iowa marriage campaigns and successfully fought Indiana's RFRA and their discriminatory 'religious refusal' laws.

In 2013, Bennett chaired Illinois Unites for Marriage, the statewide coalition that led the successful effort to win marriage equality in Illinois. He was inducted into the City of Chicago's Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame ( now Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame ) in 2013. Bennett's final appointment is pending confirmation approval from the Illinois State Senate.

In the same announcement, Pritzker's camp also announced that longtime activist Sol Flores has been named deputy governor. Flores is the founding Executive Director of La Casa Norte, a non-profit organization established in 2002. Founded in 2002, La Casa Norte now has 80 employees and offers assistance to homeless families, single parents, victims of domestic violence and abandoned youth.

* * *

Former Lambda Legal Midwest Regional Director Jim Bennett Nominated to Run Illinois Department of Human Rights

From a Lambda Legal press release

"Jim's integrity and commitment to justice make him a perfect fit to lead an agency charged with enforcing Illinois's laws ensuing fair treatment for all."

(Chicago, IL, January 17, 2019) — Today, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker announced his nomination of Jim Bennett, former Lambda Legal Midwest Regional Director, to serve as Director of the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR). Camilla Taylor, Director of Constitutional Litigation, Lambda Legal, issued the following statement:

"We are thrilled that Jim Bennett will serve as the Director of the Illinois Department of Human Rights. Jim was a visionary leader and strategist at Lambda Legal, both as Midwest Regional Director, Chief Development Officer, and in his role as chair of Illinois Unites for Marriage. His brilliance, extraordinary gift for unifying people, and his unwavering optimism and commitment to equality for all members of our community, spurred progress for LGBT people in countless ways. As a result of his leadership, Illinois led the way in recognizing the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, and in standing firm against efforts to roll back antidiscrimination laws. Jim's integrity and commitment to justice make him a perfect fit to lead an agency charged with enforcing Illinois's laws ensuing fair treatment for all.

"The Illinois Department of Human Rights is a crucial agency protecting all Illinoisans—including LGBT people and people living with HIV—from discrimination. Particularly in the absence of explicit federal protection on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in public accommodations, LGBT people rely on the Illinois Department of Human Rights as their sole recourse when businesses, health care providers, or lenders turn them away simply because of who they are.

"Lambda Legal has sent literally hundreds of callers to our help desk to the IDHR, and assisted these callers in filing claims. In addition, Lambda Legal attorneys have litigated cases before the IDHR themselves obtaining vital relief for Lambda Legal's clients. For example, Lambda Legal attorneys brought an IDHR suit against a taxicab company on behalf of a gay couple who were tossed out of a cab on a rainy night on the shoulder of an expressway for exchanging a brief kiss on the way home from the airport. Lambda Legal brought another on behalf of a transgender woman who was turned away by a health care clinic after being told that the clinic "does not have to treat people like you." Lambda Legal successfully litigated IDHR claims on behalf of a police officer and a health care provider who were fired because they were living with HIV. As a result of IDHR claims, Lambda Legal successfully challenged the refusal of numerous employers to provide spousal health insurance coverage to employees with same-sex spouses after we won the freedom to marry for same-sex couples.

"These examples illustrate the crucial role played by the IDHR in standing up for the most marginalized members of our community, and we could not be more proud that Jim Bennett will lead such a vital agency."

Bennett served as the Midwest Regional Director at Lambda Legal, the nation's largest legal organization dedicated to securing the full civil rights of the LGBTQ community and people with HIV. During his 12-year career there, Bennett was a lead strategist in Lambda Legal's Illinois and Iowa marriage campaigns and successfully fought Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act and their discriminatory 'religious refusal' laws. In 2013, he chaired Illinois Unites for Marriage, the statewide coalition that led the successful effort to win marriage equality in Illinois. Prior, Bennett served as acting senior external affairs director at Howard Brown Health, marketing and development director at the Shriver Center, and several roles at the American Red Cross' national and central Illinois regional offices. He was inducted into the City of Chicago's Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 2013 and was the recipient of Equality Illinois' Freedom award in 2018. He received his MBA from the University of Illinois at Springfield and his Bachelor of Science in marketing from Illinois State University.


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