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ELECTIONS 2020 IL STATE REP New incumbent Pizer on LGBT youth, district, gun violence
by Matt Simonette

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Lake View activist and businessman Yoni Pizer was recently named by Democratic Party officials to replace outgoing state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz when she departed for the state senate. Pizer had already been a part of the crowded field competing for Feigenholtz's House seat, and he still must campaign to hold onto his new seat in the next term.

Pizer was the longtime LGBT liaison for U.S. Rep Mike Quigley, and he and husband Brad Lippitz have been prominent fundraisers for Democratic politicians for several years.

Windy City Times: Why do you think you're the 12th District's residents' best choice?

Yoni Pizer: I feel I'm uniquely qualified for this role. I've lived in the district for over 27 years. I met my husband in the district. I got married in the district. I raised two kids in the district. I coached soccer in the district. I've worshipped in the district.

Congressman Mike Quigley approached me five years ago, and asked me to be his community liaison, knowing my close ties with the community. Through that I gained experience on how best to govern ethically, morally and with clarity. I've started two small business in the district and have what it takes to fight for this community in Springfield.

I believe leadership matters. I'm a gay Jew and in these challenging times—when white nationalism, anti-Semitism and homophobia are rising—I think it's critical not just to have a representative who can speak personally on these issues, but can effectively lead. I believe I'm that person.

WCT: How would your service be different from, or along the same lines as, former state Rep. ( now state Sen. ) Feigenholtz's?

YP: The 12th District has been fortunate to be represented so wonderfully by Sara Feigenholtz for the last 25 years. She's got big shoes [I have] to fill, especially with her encyclopedic knowledge of the budget. But I believe that I bring a slightly different perspective—I believe that I can continue what she has started, but there are some really major issues that need [to be] resolved and need attention.

Ethics reform is critically important. You can't pick up the newspaper without seeing news of people being indicted or "wearing a wire," etc. My three platforms I'm running on are trust, equality and safety, and within all those areas, I can build on and continue to grow the legacy that Sara Feigenholtz is now taking to the senate.

WCT: What are two or three of the most important issues facing the 12th District's LGBT community?

YP: We're blessed with a lot of LGBT assets in the 12th District. People come from around the state, around the country and around the world to come to what many believe is the LGBT capital of the Midwest. We have Halsted Street, Center on Halsted and Howard Brown Health. We've got so many wonderful things in the community.

However, we have some serious challenges. There are some people who believe that, once we got marriage, our fights were over. If the last three years have shown us anything, it's that our battles are not yet behind us. We need to protect our trans siblings, especially trans women of color, who are literally being murdered in the street. They need our protection, support and love. They need to know that there are jobs out there for them.

Our LGBTQ youth are more likely to be homeless and be involved in the criminal justice system—that's not right. Also, our LGBTQ seniors are often forced back into the closet when they go into assisted living facilities. Off the top of my head, those are three really important issues.

The Trump administration is doing everything they can to roll back our hard-fought victories. Even with marriage they're trying to roll back the clock and also, in terms of adoption—they're trying to carve out these religious set-asides that are not going to happen on my watch. It's just not acceptable.

WCT: This is ostensibly a "local" issue, but you're a Lake View business owner and much of your support comes from the neighborhood. What are your thoughts on LGBT youth who experience difficulties, be it from business owners or residents? How do you not get sink to an "us-versus- hem" [engagement] with folks visiting here? What can a state rep do?

YP: Representation matters. To have someone with a loud, proud, strong, clear voice representing the community is really important. Discrimination in any form is wrong. It's not just on the right, it's on the left too. We've seen incidents in Boystown that are unacceptable and shameful. We need to have a community that is safe, but welcoming to all.

We've knocked on more than 4,000 doors now. I've personally knocked on more than 2,000 doors. One thing you here over-and-over again is safety—that's one of my main platforms. We have to make sure that the police are empowered and have the tools that they need not only to prevent crimes once they happen, but also prevent them from happening in the first place.

We also need to make sure though that our police force has cultural competency in the LGBT community, especially the trans community. We also need to deal with some of the root causes of violence, such as education. With the budget stalemate in Springfield, we're harvesting some of the bitter fruits from those years, in terms of cutting back on MAP grants and Aim High grants. We need to make sure that our education system is fully-funded and welcoming, and that we don't force our young people to leave the state.

We also need to make sure our violence—especially gun-violence—prevention programs are fully funded. We all need to make sure our mental health programs is caring for those who need it. We obviously need to get weapons of war off the street. We need to close the gun show loophole. We need need to fix the firearm-owner ID laws. But we need to make sure that we're using best practices when we're designing a system within the district that is going to make people feel safe but also make the community welcoming.

WCT: You've already spoken a bit about challenges facing trans residents and visitors. Is there anything you want to add to that? Where does the state rep fit into those?

YP: We need to be more intentional with our laws. There are some laws you don't think of as necessarily being related to trans people or as affecting the trans community. The recent case where a trans couple [activists Precious and Myles Brady Davis] had a baby and realized that the public health system wasn't equipped to identify gender on the birth certificate. That's state law—we have to be very intentional with our laws such as that. There's another law that's currently on the book about name changes. It was targeted at people trying to evade legal challenges that they had in the past. But what the trans community identified was that [the law] was outing them as trans people, forcing them to publicly make this announcement. It's things like that, with our State of Illinois laws, with which we have to be very careful and following best practices.

WCT: You were U.S. Rep. Quigley's LGBT liaison for several years and engaged with a number of community issues then, and you have been active as a Democratic fundraiser for years. Being as specific as possible, where has that activism had direct results?

YP: Mayor Lightfoot? [Laughs.] Brad and I saw her very early on, when she was at zero in the polls and her campaign account matched her polling. We heard her speak and we believed that, not only was her message spot on for the times but the messenger was also appropriate—somebody coming from the outside who was using ethical, clean, transparent government as the centerpiece of her campaign was spot-on and inspirational. We got behind her, and I'm proud that she's our mayor and the community has a lot to be proud of.

… We were also very active in electing Barack Obama as president. I think that, in the end, he did so much to help our community. I'm proud that we had an event for Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Even if you don't support him as your preferred candidate in the Democratic primaries, I think all need to recognize the fact that he's a very positive representative of our community as he runs for the highest office in the land.

WCT: Are there other issues that you would like to mention?

YP: One thing we haven't touched on is women's healthcare and women's access to reproductive healthcare. I believe women should have the right to make their own reproductive healthcare decisions, with no exceptions. I also believe we need to remove the parental notification law from Illinois's books. It puts our young women in danger at a very vulnerable time, and it has no business being on the books.

Brad and I have been so active in the community for over three decades, and I'm just really excited about to take that fight to Springfield and representing the 12th District.

See .

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