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Equality Illinois gala celebrates 2013, looks to future
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Equality Illinois celebrated the LGBT community's victories of the past year at its 2014 gala, held at the Chicago Hilton Feb. 8.

But while organizers, honorees and celebrants—about 1,400 people were in attendance—spent much of the evening looking back on winning gay marriage for Illinois, they also outlined issues that will require work from activists and philanthropists in the year ahead.

[See video links below. Additional photo spread by Hal Baim at the link: .

Additional photo spread by Kat Fitzgerald at the link: .]

Among those goals were defending the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act from efforts to both repeal and weaken it, focusing more on securing stable and reliable funding to treat HIV/AIDS as well as a federal ENDA bill that protects transgender citizens, said state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz.

"Clearly our vision to educate has to continue," she added, asking attendees to remember that many state legislators put their re-elections at risk by voting for gay marriage.

Equality Illinois co-founder Art Johnston reflected on how the predominant goals of the gay-rights movement had shifted over the years. One of the first protests he attended with his partner, Jose Pena, was an appearance by anti-gay activist Anita Bryant at the Medinah Temple in 1977.

The gay community in the 1970s "was demanding not to be treated as a bunch of child molesters," Johnston said, adding that the focus then shifted in the 1980s and 1990s as the AIDS epidemic ravaged the community. Finally, in the early 2000s, marriage became a priority.

"That ignited our enemies even more," Johnston said. "Many of our enemies were casting stones in every direction, using religion to cloak their victory but we did it."

Johnston was joined on stage by Col. Jennifer Pritzker, the gala's chairperson, and called for a toast "to equal marriage and full equality" that would be "so loud that Anita Bryant would hear it in her orange grove in Florida." Also appearing onstage with Johnston were activists/philanthropists Dr. Nan Schaffer and Karen Dixon.

"Look what happens when we play well together in the sandbox," said Dixon of the marriage victory. Schaffer and Dixon issued a $50,000 matching challenge to attendees donating additional money that night.

At the event, the work of the Illinois Unites for Marriage campaign, and its coalition partners, was acknowledged, along with the March on Springfield for Marriage Equality, as part of the widespread effort needed to pass SB10 in Illinois.

Filmmaker Lana Wachowski was winner of an Equality Illinois' Freedom Award. After a glowing introduction from board member Joan Ducayet, Wachowski joked that Ducayet had forgot to mention her lesbian-themed thriller Bound.

Wachowski and her brother Andy, who is her filmmaking partner, have been notoriously reclusive, but Lana has recently been open about being transgender. She said that her hairdresser, responsible for her trademark red dreadlocks, told her that she needed to "come out for real" that evening, and tell the audience that she was "just as 'natural' as anybody else." She added, "Fear is not something I let rule my life, but gratitude is."

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk was given Equality Illinois' Freedom Award. Shortly before the gala began he spoke with reporters about his support for marriage equality.

Kirk said that, during his time convalescing following his 2012 stroke, he spent a great deal of time reflecting on "the future of the country," adding that, "its essence is that which most unlocks people's potential."

Kirk, who is only one of a few Republicans in Congress to be supportive of LGBT rights, said of his stroke, "It made me a much more sympathetic person."

Chicago Urban League President and CEO Andrea Zopp also accepted a Freedom Award on behalf of her organization. State Farm Insurance was presented with the Business Leadership Award.

Gov. Pat Quinn took to the stage to thank SB10's chief sponsors—state Rep. Greg Harris and Sen. Heather Steans. He said that the day SB10 passed the House was "a special day for the nation and a special day for our state," and thanked Harris and Steans, who joined him onstage, for "leading the charge" on the bill.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke just after the procession of politicians. "If you want to be a city and a state that looks forward, you can't have laws on the books that are backward looking," he said.

Feigenholtz paid tribute to state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, who cast one of the deciding votes on SB10 after she left the bedside of her son, who was in hospice.

"She didn't just hope and pray that they'd have enough votes to pass the bill," Feigenholtz said, thanking Jakobsson for her "selflessness and profound commitment to families." Jakobsson was not at the gala.

Among other elected officials and candidates also in attendance were: U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley; U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider; Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka; Lieutenant Governor candidate Paul Vallas; Secretary of State Jesse White; current-state Senator and State Treasurer candidate Mike Frerichs; current-Lieutenant Governor and State Comptroller candidate Sheila Simon; current-state Representative and State Treasurer candidate Tom Cross; and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Also there were state officeholders: Rep. Kelly Cassidy; Rep. Ann Williams; Rep. Ed. Sullivan, Jr.; Rep. Stephanie Kifowit; Rep. Lou Lang; Rep. Scott Drury; Rep. Christian Mitchell; Rep. Rob Martwick; Rep. Mike Smiddy; Illinois Senate President John Cullerton; Sen. Don Harmon; Sen. Dave Koehler; and state representative candidate Melanie "Mel" Ferrand.

And more: Chicago Ald. Tom Tunney, Ald. Harry Oosterman, Ald. James Cappleman, Ald. Joe Moore and Ald. Deb Mell; Springfield Ald. Cory Jobe; Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) Commissioner candidate Josina Morita; MWRD Commissioner Debra Shore; MWRD Commissioner Patrick Daley Thompson; MWRD candidate Tim Bradford; MWRD Commissioner Maria Spyropoulos; Chicago Human Rights Department Commissioner Mona Noriega; Consul General of Israel Roey Gilad; 19th Police District Commander Elias Voulgaris; Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown; Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez; Cook County Assessor and Cook County Democratic Party Chairman Joseph Berrios; Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer; Cook County Commisioner candidate Luis Arroyo, Jr; Illinois Department of Human Rights Director Rocco Clapps; Illinois Department of Employment Security Director Jay Rowell; and Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor.

On the judicial side, Judge John Simon; candidate James Crowley; candidate Judy Rice; Judge Alfred Swanson; Judge Kate Moreland; Judge Cynthia Cobbs; candidate Patricia Sheahan; candidate Diana Rosario; candidate Kristal Rivers; candidate Carolyn Joan Gallegher; and candidate William Raines.

Lana Wachowski at Equality IL gala 2-8-2014 video to come at .

Equality IL gala 2-8-2014: Jennifer Pritzker and Art Johnston .

Equality Illinois gala 2-8-2014L Parade of Politicians at .

Equality IL gala 2-8-2014: Art Johnston speech at .

Equality IL gala 2-8-2014: Karen Dixon, Nan Schaffer and Art Johnston, .

Equality IL gala 2-8-2014: Sen. Mark Kirk Award at .

Equality IL gala 2-8-2014: Chicago Urban League Award at .

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