CHICAGO—For their dedication to social justice and equality, Planned Parenthood of Illinois and veteran LGBTQ rights activist Jim Bennett will be honored at the 2018 Equality Illinois Gala.
United Airlines is the Presenting Sponsor of the Gala, the Midwest's largest LGBTQ formal celebration, to be held on Saturday, February 3, 2018 at the Hilton Chicago, Equality Illinois announced Wednesday.
More than 1,000 attendees, including more than 100 political figures and community VIPs, are expected to celebrate the accomplishments that advanced LGBTQ civil rights over the last year and hear about Equality Illinois' mission in 2018 and beyond to create a more welcoming and inclusive state for LGBTQ Illinoisans and our families.
"We are celebrating new legislation that Equality Illinois helped pass so that transgender Illinoisans have an updated birth certificate law, LGBTQ Illinoisans will see better representation on state boards and commissions, and the anti-LGBTQ panic defense is outlawed," said Brian C. Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois.
"The gala is also an opportunity for Equality Illinois to share our vision for countering the headwinds of the anti-LGBTQ policies sweeping the nation by continuing to advance LGBTQ civil rights in Illinois," Johnson said.
The Gala is the single-largest fundraising event for the Equality Illinois Institute, which funds the ongoing educational and outreach work for LGBTQ equality throughout the state of Illinois.
"Illinois-based United Airlines, the Presenting Sponsor of the Gala and the Exclusive Airline of Equality Illinois since 2014, is a longtime champion of our work and of LGBTQ rights," Johnson said. "It was one of the earliest U.S. corporations to prohibit discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and, later, gender identity."
Gregory D. Jones, Chief Diversity Officer of United Airlines, said, "At United, we pride ourselves on being as diverse as the communities we serve around the globe. From our headquarters in Illinois to our operations around the globe, the 90,000 members of the United family act as ambassadors for the core values of dignity, equality, and opportunity in the workplace. These are values United not only shares with Equality Illinois but which we have advanced together. But, we know our work is far from done, which is why we reaffirm our commitment as the official Airline Sponsor and Presenting Sponsor of Equality Illinois and its annual gala."
At the Gala, the Equality Illinois Business Leadership Award, given annually to organizations that demonstrate remarkable vision, courage, and leadership in the effort to achieve full equality for LGBTQ individuals in Illinois, will be presented to Planned Parenthood of Illinois.
"We are proud to honor Planned Parenthood for a century of providing access to sexual and reproductive health care and information, often facing tremendous challenges, and more recently for offering transgender health care services including hormone therapy in health centers in Chicago and central Illinois," Johnson said.
Responding to the recognition, Jennifer Welch, President & CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said, "Planned Parenthood believes that LGBTQ rights and reproductive rights are deeply connected to civil rights for all. We have long stood with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the struggle for full equality. PPIL will continue to be a strong and passionate advocate for policies that enable ALL Illinoisans to access comprehensive reproductive and sexual health care. I am so proud of the work PPIL is doing to provide quality care to anyone who needs it, no matter who they love, where they live, or how they identify. It is essential that we strive to make every patient feel welcome, comfortable, and cared for."
The Equality Illinois Freedom Award, which honors individuals who demonstrate remarkable vision, courage, and leadership in the effort to achieve full equality for LGBTQ individuals in Illinois, will be presented at the gala to Jim Bennett. For more than a decade as Midwest Regional Director and recently as Chief Development Officer, Bennett has contributed his strong and powerful voice for our community through his work at Lambda Legal, the nation's largest legal organization dedicated to securing the full civil rights of the LGBTQ community and people with HIV.
"We will always be grateful to Jim for taking on the Herculean task of chairing the Illinois Unites for Marriage coalition, which pulled together LGBTQ organizations, Republicans and Democrats, labor and business and many more for the successful campaign to win marriage equality in Illinois," Johnson said.
Bennett, reacting to the honor, reflected on the importance of the statewide work of Equality Illinois. "Springfield is my hometown. When I came out, I did what 'everyone does', I moved to Chicago. I am thankful to Equality Illinois for always seeing Illinois as one state, and I'm thrilled to be part of their efforts to make sure equality reaches all the way across the Land of Lincoln because we really are everywhere," Bennett said.
"No matter how good we've done as a movement in gaining political power and public acceptance, we still find ourselves too often on the outside. We need to know how to play the game as insiders and how to fight for our rights in the streets. I am thankful that Equality Illinois has my back. They are pros at working with our leaders in the General Assembly to stop bad legislation from seeing the light of day and moving good bills. I feel protected."
Tables and individual tickets for the 2018 Equality Illinois Gala are now available at www.equalityillinois.org/2018Gala . Purchases made before Oct. 31, 2017 receive a 10% discount.