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Curriculum work, ERA among EI agenda items
by Matt Simonette
2018-04-11

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An inclusive public schools curriculum, an expansion of employment protections, the Equal Rights Amendment ( ERA ) and the state budget are among the issues that LGBT-rights organization Equality Illinois has on its radar as the Illinois General Assembly continues its session this spring.

The organization's central lobbying priority is a bill that would implement the teaching of LGBT history in schools, which Equality Illinois has been working on in tandem with Illinois Safe Schools Alliance and the Legacy Project.

Mike Ziri, Equality Illinois' political director, noted that the bill passed the Senate Education Committee with bipartisan support in March.

"It was a nine-to-two vote, and we received some Republican support," Ziri said. "In the House, we also have a Republican co-sponsor on the bill as well. We're excited to have some bipartisan support on a major LGBTQ initiative."

Illinois would become the second state in the Union—California is the first—to have such a mandate should the bill pass.

"We hear from our stakeholders across the state, whether it's parents or LGBTQ youth, that they don't see themselves in the curriculum," Ziri explained. "You can learn about Jane Addams, but not learn all about Jane Addams. You can learn about Walt Whitman, but not learn about Walt Whitman, that he was a gay man. You can learn about these famous figures, but you don't learn the whole story."

GLSEN estimated in 2015 that only about 27 percent of LGBTQ school students in Illinois hear anything positive about LGBTQ people, Ziri further noted, adding, "You can imagine the effect that that has on them, never to learn that history."

The bill is important, he said, "because folks will know that there were folks like them who made contributions in history and played important roles in historical events. The same is true for non-LGBTQ students—they will also learn that history. We see it as fostering more affirming schools as well."

Another priority is a bill introduced by state Rep. Will Guzzardi ( D-Chicago ) that would apply the state Human Rights Ordinance to businesses with fewer than 15 employees, which were previously exempt; that rule would apply mainly for outside Cook County, since Chicago and county ordinances cover firms with under 15 employees.

Other initiatives Equality Illinois is joining include a push to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

"It's been a long time coming, but there's going to be a renewed effort to make Illinois the 37th state to ratify it," Ziri said. "Illinois has a provision in the state constitution that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, and we think it's time that the U.S. Constitution ensures that protection as well. It's long overdue."

Looking ahead to the organization's LGBTQ Advocacy Day at the Statehouse on April 11, when citizens meet and lobby their representatives about pertinent issues, Ziri said Equality Illinois was encouraging participants to discuss a fair budget as well as the curriculum issue.

"We ask them to talk about what matters to them in a budget," he explained. "Is it equitable HIV funding? Providing funding for homeless youth? We want to convey that LGBTQ people care about an equitable budget as well."

One other priority on the organization's agenda, which was launched by organizations such as ACLU Chicago and Chicago Votes, is a bill that assists incarcerated persons and persons recently released from prisons in knowing their voting and other civil rights.

"We know that LGBTQ people are disproportionately represented in the jail and prison population," Ziri said. "So we know if this bill can be a mechanism to get folks civilly engaged, we support that."

See EqualityIllinois.us .


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