Standing out in a crowd of qualified competitors can be difficult, but openly lesbian mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot is up to the challenge. As a Victory Fund- and Equality Illinois PAC-endorsed candidate with a comprehensive LGBTQ policy framework, she stands a chance not only of becoming Chicago's first openly gay mayor, but also becoming the first African-American woman elected to the role.
Windy City Times ( WCT ): What made you decide to throw your hat into the ring in what was already a crowded race for mayor?
Lori Lightfoot ( LL ): I got into the race because I saw that there's a lot of great things that were going on in the city, but the prosperity certainly wasn't spread evenly around the city's neighborhoods. And I saw too many families that looked like the family that I grew up in and individuals who look like me, and under similar circumstances, really struggling.
And that there was no real plan for those folks. There wasn't a plan to uplift the quality of life in neighborhoods, really comprehensively bring down the violence in ways that could stabilize communities. That we have too many neighborhoods that lacked good quality schools either at the elementary or high school level, and that the unemployment rate in many neighborhoods was in the high twenties, if not higher. And there are a number of other factors that made me see that there was a great need for a leader who is going to be independent, who is going to put forth a progressive vision for the city, and who is really truly going to put people first.
WCT: Two of the top issues listed on your campaign websitestopping violence and reforming the police departmentstrongly connect to your previous role on the police accountability board. How would becoming mayor help you work toward those goals versus your time on the board?
LL: When you work on a board, you have to live within that board's jurisdiction and area of responsibilitywhich in the police board was limited. We were essentially an administrative court and could only weigh in on topics that came before us. We had some ability to use the bully pulpit of that office to advocate for certain policy changes, but the jurisdiction was limited. Obviously, as mayor, I can break through a lot of the bureaucratic barriers and really compel change both in terms of reform and accountability in really improving the relationship between community and police. And also, in an important area of accountability, it's just unacceptable to me that we are spending so much money on lawsuits, settlements, judgments and attorney fees. And there doesn't seem to be a sense of urgency around why that's a problem. Those are all things that can be addressed expeditiously if you're the mayor.
WCT: What is your vision for the LGBTQ community?
LL: I think that we've got a number of battles that we still need to fight. Getting marriage was really important from a practical standpoint and also from a symbolic standpoint, but we know that discrimination still runs rampant against members of our community. And of particular notoriety in the last year or so is what's going on with the trans community. We had two murders of trans women last year where those murders were not solved and frankly it doesn't sound like there's been significant progress.
We know that a significant portion of the homeless population are made up of LGBTQ+ young people. So we've got to make sure that we are doing everything that we can. We also know that there's unequal access to healthcare within our communityparticularly for drugs that could mitigate against the spread of AIDS and HIV. So there's a lot more that needs to be done both to highlight these issues and frankly let people know that the struggle continues. I will also make sure, as a part of my administration, that we do a much better job of having liaisons that reach out to this community. That's an area where I think we still have a long way to goparticularly when it comes to reaching out and having relationships between our community and the police department.
Right now there's only one LGBTQ+ liaison for the entire city. I recommend increasing that to three, and having them have specific geographic boundaries within which they work. We also need to make sure the administration, from top to bottom, in every department and not just in the human relations area, is populated with out proud LGBTQ members.
WCT: You referenced liaisons, which is part of your LGBTQ policy framework. Another proposition in that policy framework is creating 24-hour drop-off centers. How would those work?
LL: What we seeand this is a significant issue among our young peopleis that they don't have a stable place to go to get resources, to have respite, to get food, to get shelter, and training, to connect with social services. And those needs are really 24 hours a day; they're not just during the daytime or early evening hours. So having 24 hour centers that can really help address the needs of our community is, I think, critically important.
WCT: Do you see any other issues as being big problems facing the city's LGBTQ community within the next few years?
LL: I think our issues are universal in some ways. There are things, of course, that are unique to our community given who are and given the level of discrimination that we continue to face, but people in our community also care about violence, they also care about good and safe schools, they also care about making sure that taxes are not regressive and that they have affordable housing optionsparticularly among our young people and our seniors. Those issues really overlap with issues that I've heard about from residents of the city all over and are not necessarily unique to the LGBTQ+ community.
WCT: While Chicago does have anti-discrimination protections that are pretty robust, enforcement of those laws can be difficult. What would you do as mayoraside from your LGBTQ policy frameworkto more adequately enforce those laws not only to help the LGBTQ community, but other marginalized communities in the city?
LL: Well I think number one, the mayor has to set the tone for the kind of city we want to have. The mayor has to speak the values of the collective, and talking about these issues in lots of different forums is critically important because it's going to be very clear that this is something that we value, this is something that is important to the health and well being of the city. And I think frankly that goes a long way in and of itself.
But of course we need to also educate people about what their rights are. No one's going to be a better protector of your rights than you. And a lot of times what I hear from people is, "Well I didn't know where to turn, I wasn't sure if I could get help, I didn't actually know that I had a right to this, this and this." Educating peopleparticularly, young peopleabout what their rights are and what resources they have when they feel like their rights have been violated is critically important. And making sure people know about various advocacy groups that are out there and designed to protect the rights of marginalized communities or communities that have been subject to historic discrimination on the basis of a lot of different factors.
For more information on Lightfoot's campaign, visit lightfootforchicago.com/ .