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ELECTIONS Candidate Profile: Sol Flores
by Matt Simonette

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Sol Flores, the longtime head of La Casa Norte, which assists young people experiencing homeless in Chicago, says that her "fierce tenaciousness" is what inspired her to try for the Democratic nomination for the 4th District Congressional post being vacated by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez. Flores spoke with Windy City Times about her background and work with the LGBT community.

Windy City Times: So why have you decided to run for Congress?

Sol Flores: I really see this as a continuation of my life's work, service and contribution. Fifteen years ago, I founded, created and built, from the ground up, La Casa Norte, an organization that has helped thousands of young people—and their families—escape homelessness. As I've worked with them, I've seen what it takes to raise them out of poverty—it means access to affordable health care, affordable housing and a living wage job. I've said this publicly for years: Homelessness is not an identity, is a set of circumstances that we can change when we have the right political and moral will. Those have to come from a strong set of values—love and justice. My values were groomed in me when I was a young kid. My grandparents came from Puerto Rico in the 1950s and 1960s. … They very much had an "immigrant experience" in the fact that they didn't speak English, and they were Black Puerto Ricans so they experienced racist and discriminatory actions taken against them. I saw how hard that they had to work in order to provide for us.

WCT: What do you think sets you apart from the other candidates in the race?

SF: None of them built and created what I've built. There was nothing there in terms of emergency and transition shelters, and other supports for housing programs, I built those. Also, for the last 15 and a half years, I've been super-engaged from a civic perspective. I've sat on multiple boards across the city as we've fought for around issues for equity and access for the the Latino and Latina community, along with housing developments, youth voices, and anti-violence measures. … Also, if we think our House of Representatives should look like "the People," that means it's got to look like me. That means someone with a strong woman's perspective, a woman of color, someone from my generation with a type of real, valid community experience of helping people have the life of their dreams. That's pretty significant, none of the other candidates have that record that I have.

WCT: What are the two or three most important issues for the district right now?

SF: First off, affordable and acceptable health care—that is absolutely critical. What I mean by that is, it has to be affordable and culturally competent. I've worked with young people who've identified as being LGBTQ for over 15 years, and families who identify that way, and one of the things they struggle with is finding health care providers who are open, accepting and non-judgmental of them. The other thing is ending homelessness. It's actually not rocket science. It's three things: health care, affordable housing and a living wage job—access to a living to support yourself and your family. I've never met a client in 15 years who didn't tell me they wanted to work. They wanted a way to support themselves. They wanted to contribute, to be givers, not takers, the way that they are portrayed are criminalized because they have experienced homelessness. The third issue is comprehensive immigration reform. Congress has kicked the can on this issue for two many years, and we've got to get this done.

WCT: What do you think have some of your key contributions in work on behalf of the LGBT community?

SF: First, for me, fighting for LGBT rights and marriage equality was a civil rights issue. It's something to me that is so near-and-dear. I've been a person who's experienced discrimination. I've been a person on the other side of that. I remember the first time I was called a "nigger," when I was seven years old. I looked at my mom and couldn't understand what they were talking about. I'm someone who's been on the other side and been discriminated against and not been accepted for what you look like. That's the first thing I want to say: Since I was a little kid, I've been very clear about this.

Working at La Casa Norte, it's been my greatest honor to serve the LGBT community, and my record speaks for itself. I have been a ferocious ally. Here's why: You know that, specific to my work, there are a number of your people who experience homelessness because of their sexual identity. They're kicked out, thrown out, because their families don't understand and will not tolerate them. That's just wrong.

What I've done is, I've helped create an organization, where at every level we go beyond tolerance. I'm not about "tolerating" people for their sexual identity; I'm about celebrating it. I take pride in the celebration of acceptance of gender norms, gender identity and sexual identity. I put my money where my mouth is—for years, our leadership and staff has had members of the LGBTQ community, and the reason they've chose to work there and serve there is because we're doing work that allows young people and their families to be fully accepted for who they are and what they want to be.

Another thing I want to stand for is that we have full acceptance within the racial lens of the LGBTQ world. In my community of the South and West Sides, we've got to force the issue there. Young people should not have to ride the bus or train to go to Boystown to be their true selves. Yes, everyone loves Boystown, but I want to make sure that Humboldt Park, Logan Square and Back of the Yards are also places that are open and accepting, and that people can be themselves in the communities they grew up in.

WCT: What are some other important issues for the LGBT constituency in the district?

SF: I think that President Trump's attacks to ban and kick out trans members of the military is absolutely disgusting. While I don't have the number about the exact number of trans people in the district who served in the military, I will fight to make sure that does not happen. To me, that is an abomination. If you are courageous enough to stand up and volunteer to serve and die for your country, then we reject you for who you are and who you want to be? That's horrific.

Another thing that I think is important is that we have support for LGBTQ families. Children are growing up in a different way. We have got to create support for families that are helpful for those young people, and that means fighting against any kind of discriminatory school policies and these horrific "bathroom laws."

The last thing is, the gay people I know are not the rich, wealthy, two incomes, earning six-figure incomes and more. There is a significant amount of poverty in the LGBTQ community, and they are discriminated against when it comes to employment and jobs, and entrepreneurial opportunity. I will fight to make sure that we remove any kind of barriers around gender, gender identity and sexual orientation from opportunities from getting jobs and having access to capital. This is about celebrating everyone and making sure that everyone is under the tent.

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