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Equality Illinois kicks off Pride month with awards brunch
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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More than 150 people gathered for Equality Illinois' LGBTQ Pride month brunch honoring Kelly Suzanne Saulsberry ( Chicago Commission on Human Relations' director of policy and outreach ) June 4 at Life Creative.

Saulsberry received the organization's Community Pride Award in recognition of her work in advancing LGBTQ equality year round. The event also featured remarks by Illinois state Comptroller Susana Mendoza.

Equality Illinois Director of Development Eric Wilkerson noted the presence of Rep. Robin Kelly, state Sen. Daniel Biss, state Sen. Cristina Castro, Judge Mike Mackoff, Alderman Raymond Lopez and Chicago Commission on Human Relations Director Mona Noriega.

"I want to welcome you to the official kick-off of Pride month," said Equality Illinois CEO Brian C. Johnson. "For centuries the primary tools of oppression against the LGBTQ community were shame and stigma and refusing to acknowledge that we existed and have a right to exist. Then came Stonewall, led in large part by trans women of color who fought back against oppression and said, 'No more' ... From that year forward, every June we as a community have come together to celebrate pride and honor [what happened at Stonewall]."

Johnson noted the recent Illinois general assembly accomplishments on behalf of the LGBTQ community, including banning the gay and trans panic defense as a reason to murder someone, a first in the nation law to increase LGBTQ representation on state boards and commissions and amending the birth records law so trans people can update the gender marker on their birth certificates without the requirement of surgery. He noted the recent article that said Illinois is a leader in LGBTQ equality while other states are pulling back. Johnson called on attendees to ensure that Illinois is the first state where LGBTQ people are fully accepted and have full equality in every aspect of life.

Mendoza invoked Wonder Woman ( there was a person dressed in her costume at the event ) and her love of the character since she was a young girl.

"I wish I had one of those Wonder Woman's truth lassos that I could wrap around Gov. Rauner during [his] interviews when he says, 'This is all the Democrats' fault,'" said Mendoza.

Mendoza said the LGBTQ community has a lot to celebrate in the state of Illinois; however, this is not the case with many things happening in Springfield—most notably, the continuing absence of a budget. She explained that it is the governor's constitutional obligation to present the general assembly with a balanced budget and thus far he has failed to do that part of his job. Mendoza noted that as comptroller she has the hardest job because it involves triaging programs and services monetarily so they can stay afloat.

"I do not want anyone to die on my watch," said Mendoza.

She noted the absence of a Pride month proclamation from the president this year.

"I am going to declare June Pride month because, while there is a lot to be depressed about, there is a lot to celebrate with this community," said Mendoza. "Forget about shame and stigma, let's talk about celebration ... equality and justice ... If there is one word I cannot stand it's tolerate ... we need to embrace and be proud of [who we are]. I am married to a heterosexual super hot guy and we have a four-year-old son. When people ask what I want for our son, all I say is I want him to be happy and that [applies] to his career or whether he falls in love with a woman or man ... We need to celebrate what makes us different and support each other in the fights that make this world a better place whether it is equality for all or passing a [fair and equitable] budget."

Anthony Galloway ( Equality Illinois director of education and outreach ) spoke about the work Saulsberry has done for the LGBTQ community both professionally and as a volunteer for a variety of LGBTQ organizations ahead of her remarks. Galloway noted Saulsberry's South Side Chicago roots, her role as co-chair of Pride Action Tank's leadership advisory council, her board membership with She100 and her prior board membership and current leadership advisory council membership at Affinity Community Services.

Saulsberry said she was shocked when she received the phone call telling her she was chosen for this award.

"I never would have expected or imagined it," said Saulsberry. "I am very humbled and honored by this recognition."

Saulsberry noted the presence of her family, including her fiancée, and friends. She explained that her mother was unable to attend and honored her late father.

"There are Pride events each year all over the world and today we are here in this room ... celebrating community," said Saulsberry. "Pride means something more personal to me. It is about relationships, creating a family of my choosing and my personal journey of realizing and embracing that I was a lesbian and that started in my first year at Wellesley College, go figure."

Saulsberry explained that the journey has been painful for her because some family members have cut themselves off from her because she is a lesbian and vowed from that moment on she would not care what anyone thought of her being gay. She noted the role Affinity has played in her life since she returned to Chicago after college, especially the mentorship of Kim Hunt ( Affinity's former executive director and current executive director of Pride Action Tank ).

"I am fortunate to have a wonderful community of family and friends who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, heterosexual, transgender and gender nonconforming who have loved, supported, nurtured and sustained me," said Saulsberry. "It is not something I take for granted."

DJ Tjaye ( exclusive DJ for Oscar/Grammy winner Jennifer Hudson ) provided the entertainment while guests noshed on breakfast buffet and cocktails. The event also featured a silent auction and raffle.

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