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Bird-Martinez vies for 31st Ward City Council spot
by Matt Simonette

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Openly gay automotive software designer Colin Bird-Martinez is currently running to represent the 31st Ward in the Feb. 26 citywide elections. Bird-Martinez has done a great deal of activism work locally, and he now maintains that work can carry over to City Hall.

The 31st Ward, currently represented by incumbent Ald. Millie Santiago, includes parts of the Avondale, Belmont-Cragin, Hermosa, Logan Square and Portage Park neighborhoods.

Windy City Times: What compelled you to run?

Colin Bird-Martinez: I'm running because I love this community. My partner and I moved here from Logan Square about five years ago. We were honestly worried at first about a whole "traditional values" thing—the area is very Roman Catholic. But that stereotype ended up not being true at all. People were really happy that we moved to the community.

The reason I decided to run is that I've seen a lot of absenteeism from our alderman. Even in recent interviews, she said there's no gentrification in our community, and we know that it's not true. I know the names of people who've been pushed out. There's a lot of instability happening, particularly in my part of the community, Hermosa. We need new leadership that's going to pay particular attention to that, as well as lift up the voices of every one in the community. A lot of the people involved in my campaign are people I knew from community organizing—a lot of women, undocumented people, LGBT people. Those are the primary groups, and those we are trying to bring voices to in the campaign.

WCT: Elaborate on some other issues you are concerned with.

CBM: There are a lot of issues with education. Many of the people I meet send their kids [to school] outside the community. That's often a serious issue for families, so I want to fight for fully funding our schools and having an elected school board. I meet a lot of young people, particularly young men, who are a little lost about what to do after high school, so I want to make City Colleges free. People who are in gangs, or are former gang members, have said, "Had I known there were opportunities like this, I would not have joined a gang."

We've had a lot of different things we've canvassed on. This week's was about education. Last week's was about women's issues. My partner is a social worker, so a lot of the stuff that I care about has to do with social work.

Obviously crime is a number one issue as well. My opponents are focused on bringing even more cops in, and that ends up terrorizing more people, particularly young people and young men. I want to rebuild public trust. I was happy to see the consent decree passed; I was a supporter of that, but in the future I want to see more police accountability through the [Civilian Police Accountability Ordinance]. I also want to promote mental health services for those who are victims of violence.

The most "kitchen sink" issue is constituent services. The alderman is ignoring a lot of issues and that's why a lot of people are wanting change.

WCT: You have a long history of activism; speak a bit about that, and how much of that relates to the LGBT community specifically?

CBM: When I moved here, my neighbors were really passionate about seeing change in the community but didn't know yet about how to bring it about. It lacked formal organization. In 2014, we co-founded the Hermosa Neighborhood Association. Just like the residents who co-founded that with me, I had no formal background in community organizing. But we've done incredible things, such as advocating for affordable housing, stopping to stop the expansion of charter schools that were affecting our community, and, our primary thing, getting people together for beautification. We planted close to 100 trees in the community and distributed rainwater barrels. The thing I'm most proud of is raising a quarter of a million dollars for a new playground.

I have a progressive political organization really involved in the campaign and am part of Reclaim Chicago, which [supports officials such as] Kim Foxx and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, and [works on] fighting gender oppression and racial capitalism. Those values are imbued throughout our campaign. We are focused in getting young people to vote—the average age in this ward is 28. It's about getting people 18-24 to vote, women to vote, and having immigrant populations involved in the campaign, so they can hold me accountable as well, without being able to vote.

Out in the community, I think some people will admit to me that they are gay, and you can infer that they are not open in their home. Other people have told me that it takes a lot of courage [to be out] because it is a traditional-values ward, and they're surprised that I'd run. But I never get anything bad from people [while canvassing] at the doors. They're very excited by it. They're excited that somebody different would run. I work in very cis- white male spaces. Being in those spaces, I see a lot of positive change happening, and that's without my doing anything. So that's why I'm excited to be running in this ward—I think it will make a real impact on that as well.

WCT: Are there other pertinent issues for the ward's LGBT residents?

CBM: One thing is family acceptance programs. There's a strong Catholic population in the community, and a strong evangelical population as well. I want to support, through those family acceptance programs, the mental well-being of gay youth in our area, and their parents and families, to really understand. I think we should require all-gender restrooms in public buildings. I was also going to support bringing a new youth center, because we have nothing like that on the Northwest side, , but I'm happy to say La Casa Norte is building one fairly near to us, which also has permanent housing for gay youth. But we need more of that. I don't know how to do it yet, but I'd also like to support getting a gay bar or club into the area. There used to be one in Hermosa—the only one between here, Boystown and Oak Park, but it closed down. I think that would be a better presence in this area.

See .

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