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Democratic gubernatorial candidates debate LGBT issues
by Matt Simonette

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Democratic candidates vying in the March 2018 primary for their party's nomination for governor of Illinois gathered Dec. 6 for a debate focused on LGBT-related issues.

The forum, held at Second Presbyterian Church, 1936 S. Michigan Ave., was sponsored by Equality Illinois as well as a sizable coalition of local advocacy organizations, including Association of Latinos/as Motivating Action ( ALMA ), Affinity and Pride Action Tank. The event was the first statewide candidates' political forum centered on LGBT issues, according to Anthony Galloway, Equality Illinois' director of civic engagement. The forum was streamed live across the state at viewing parties.

Candidates included businessmen J.B. Pritzker and Chris Kennedy; state Sen. Daniel Biss ( D-Evanston ); anti-violence activist Tio Hardiman; and Madison County Regional Superintendent of Schools Bob Daiber.

Moderators included Equality Illinois CEO Brian Johnson; Pride Action Tank Executive Director Kim Hunt; ALMA Vice President Kenny Martin-Ocasio; and Affinity Community Services Executive Director Imani Rupert-Gordon. Questions and responses focused on LGBT-specific issues as well as intersectional topics such as immigration and healthcare.

Overall there was little disagreement amongst the candidates about the need for fighting for and preserving LGBT rights; except for a few participants' slight digs at their opponents' experience-level, or financial status, the discussion was collegial, with most candidates' ire focused on Gov. Bruce Rauner and President Donald Trump.

The forum opened with each of the candidates pledging support for the community ( Daiber was late driving up from downstate, so he missed the opening remarks ).

Pritzker spoke about how inclusiveness was a principle imbibed within him by his mother, and mentioned his support of 1990s openly gay pioneering candidates Judge Tom Chiola and state Rep. Larry McKeon. "I've stood with you long before it was [politically] 'safe,'" he said.

Biss, who earlier that afternoon debuted a comprehensive platform on LGBT issues, added, "When I'm governor, the LGBTQ community's voice will be heard."

"I plan to [support the community] to the best of my ability and on every level," said Hardiman.

Kennedy spoke of his large family, which he said included LGBT members: "We believe families should be loyal, and we believe government should be an extension of families."

Daiber said that, under his administration, the LGBT community "will be part of shaping what our Illinois will look like for the 21st Century."

The candidates all said that they would ensure that Illinoisans have healthcare access, with Daiber and Kennedy both mentioning the need for protecting existing services, especially those that have been more widely available through the Affordable Care Act.

"If they can do it in Florida, they can do it here," said Kennedy, who also mentioned the importance of funding mental health services.

"We believe we can care for a broken arm, but we should believe in helping out the mind as well," he added.

"We have to make sure that we're enhancing al the different streams wherein state government touches all the forms of healthcare services needed," noted Biss, who mentioned sponsoring a bill expanding access to pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP.

Hardiman additionally promised to "take the bull by the horns" in addressing HIV and other STD's. Pritzker said that the state's healthcare services were "under siege" by Gov. Rauner, and said Illinois needed a governor who would "stand up against Donald Trump."

The candidates also spoke about the need for housing and other resources for LGBT seniors. Kennedy said, "People shouldn't go to sleep at night worrying what's going to happen when they get older."

Pritzker added that healthcare personnel should have culturally competent training for LGBT seniors, and that the state needed to ensure home-based care would be widely available.

"When we make policy, we forget that there are LGBTQ seniors everywhere," Biss said. "We need to make sure there is well-paid, well-trained staff in these facilities."

"A state that does not take care of its citizens … is a state being led in the wrong direction," noted Hardiman.

Martin-Ocasio noted in a question that an estimated 267,000 undocumented individuals in the U.S. identify as LGBT and asked what the candidates would do to support the LGBT immigrant community.

Daiber noted that he supported the sanctuary-state and -city policies of Illinois and Chicago, and opposed policies emanating from the Trump administration. He pledged to continue to offer support as governor, and added, "Hopefully many of those immigrants, whether they are part of the LGBTQ community, or [whichever other] communities, they will be business leaders who help the state of Illinois in the private sector."

Pritzker called the Trump-Pence administration "an abomination" that has reversed the "progress we've worked for undocumented immigrants and the LGBTQ community for many years," further pledging to vigorously enforce the Illinois Trust Act. Biss tied the discussion back into his support of single-payer healthcare, noting that such a system would reduce the number of bureaucratic interactions that undocumented persons would have to engage in.

"If we have a single-payer system … you don't have to go sign up at the Medicaid office," he said. "If we have a system of truly universal healthcare … the LGBTQ members of the undocumented community will have healthcare, be safe [and] be covered."

Hardiman pledged that his administration would work toward a "pathway to citizenship" for LGBT undocumented persons, adding, "We'll push through policy that makes sure [supportive policy] is a reality for undocumented people here in Illinois."

"President Trump and Vice President Pence have no sense of what's going on in the world," added Kennedy. "They have no idea that there are places you can be put to death for the things you can do freely here in the United States."

Hunt asked the candidates how they'd address youths experiencing homelessness and housing instability, including in rural portions of the state. Pritzer acknowledged that many LGBT youths are in such situations after being evicted by their families and have been adversely affected by social-service cuts from the Rauner administration. Noting that Rauner spends a great deal of time Downstate, he should spend time "making sure those communities live up the obligations that they have under the state of Illinois."

Biss added bluntly—to much applause—"Bruce Rauner sucks."

But he quickly added that the homelessness issue predated Rauner and that the governor would have to expand their focus to determine what systemic and structural issues were in place even before Rauner was in office. Biss said, "The cuts that he caused are unacceptable and vicious. We need to not just restore those to where they were before, we need to end homelessness in Illinois."

Hardiman said that he would back House Bill 453, which has been with the House Rules Committee since last March, and which would tax financial transactions. "That would be $3 billion, taxing the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the Chicago Board of Options [and] the Chicago Board of Trade. We can use those funds to help end homelessness in Illinois."

Kennedy, echoing Biss, noted that even when Democrats had a supermajority in the legislature and control of the governor's mansion, "They did nothing to fix these problems. We've got a Democratic Party controlling the state, a Democrat controlling the city of Chicago, and we've got a relentless attack on people of color in the city of Chicago and … poor people across the state of Illinois."

He added, "All we have to do is give [families] a sense of hope and survival, and we don't."

Daiber, the one candidate from Downstate, acknowledged that a rural youth is faced with limited-to-no options for services. Their sole options for assistance often come from funds channeled through the school systems.

"As governor, you have to make sure that those monies are flowing, so those homeless kids in those rural areas get their services," he added.

During closing comments, Biss noted the intersectional nature of the issues discussed and said he would be the right candidate if Illinoisans believed that elections should be "earned and not bought," and that he was the choice for bringing about a "just and equitable Illinois."

Hardiman said his voice would be "powered by the people" and maintained that he wanted to be perceived as "a non-billionaire candidate." Kennedy spoke about economic and racial oppression, noting that there is "a relentless attack on the poor, and we are pushing them out of the state."

Daiber emphasized that, though he was from Downstate, he was interested in "uniting" Illinois, adding that his candidacy was focused on "a balanced budget, a progressive income tax, and an equal rights amendment that includes this community."

Pritzker emphasized that, prior to running for office, he was "getting big things done to make people's lives better … . I've been doing that for decades for the LGBT community, standing with you."

All of the participants said that they would be willing to hire qualified LGBTQ persons for key roles in their administration, as well as state boards and commissions. All also pledged to to return to debate the Republican nominee in the lead-up to the November 2018 election.

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