With just under three months to go until Chicago's mayoral election, candidate Gery Chico unveiled his campaign's expansive platform on LGBT issues in an event held Nov. 29 at Ann Sather's Belmont Avenue restaurant.
Speaking to an audience of press, activists and community members, Chico outlined his support for full marriage equality and the extension of domestic-partner benefits for employees contracted to do work with the city among a cornucopia of other issues. He further expressed his desire to see the passage of the state's urgent civil unions legislation, Senate Bill ( SB ) 1716, due for vote in the General Assembly as early as Nov. 30.
Chico described SB1716 as "critical" and "a matter of fairness and decency." He said he would spend much of his Monday contacting several state lawmakers and urging them to support the legislation.
"It's a civil-rights issue. It's just as simple as that. Two people, two adults, same sex should be able to decide that ... It's just that easy," Chico said. "It will be a happy day in Illinois when this legislation is approved."
Beyond civil unions, Chico has been on the record as pro-same-sex marriage dating at least back to 2004, when the Chicago Tribune reported the then-U.S. Senate contender was the only candidate in that raceincluding its eventual winner, President Obamathat supported marriage equality for LGBT people in that race.
But Chico says his support of LGBT equality dates even further back than that, making for an "easy" decision to push for a wide array of increased protections for queer Chicagoans.
"The way I was brought up in my family, we were all about equality for people no matter what your background was or where you came from and this came from my grandparents down through my parents to me," Chico said. "I'm really proud that my brothers and I were raised in an environment like that so it was not a sweat for me at all."
Chico's platform further outlines hopes to ensure equal employment opportunities for LGBT people living in the city, to support and collaborate with community anchors like the Center on Halsted and Howard Brown Health Center and to institute mandatory LGBT sensitivity and diversity training for police officers, firefighters and emergency medical treatment workers. In schools, he hopes to initiate a proactive anti-bullying program as part of a broader goal to "revolutionize the way we instruct students."
To help combat to the city's still staggering HIV-infection rates, he said he would maintain or increase funding for AIDS prevention and care and hinted at a forthcoming proposal on the issue to be revealed sometime in the coming weeks.
Chico's platform also addresses several federal LGBT issues, including his support for the repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and for the passage of the Uniting American Families Act as part of further comprehensive immigration reform.
Greg Simoncini, a former board member of both Lambda Legal and the Victory Fund, described Chico's platform as refreshingly detailed and an indication the candidate would "walk the talk." He admired Chico's willingness to utilize his position to potentially affect issues being debating beyond the city's borders. No other candidate in the race to date, he noted, has come near to Chico in laying out his or her specific positions on these issues.
"I have never seen a mayoral candidate run on a platform that not only addresses local issues but says, 'Here is what I can do with my influence,'" Simoncini said.
Rick Garcia, Equality Illinois director of public policy, introduced Chico, who he described as a candidate who has stood with LGBT people "long before it was popular or the politically correct thing to do." Referencing the advances the community has made under the leadership of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, Garcia described Chicago as "at a turning point" and hoped Daley's successor would continue the current mayor's willingness to address LGBT issues.
"As gay-rights activist, I say we cannot lose that," Garcia said. "We need a mayor that not only represents us here but is very vocal and strong across the country and Gery has demonstrated that over and over again."
Drawing his comments to a conclusion, Chico challenged his competitors in the mayoral race to publicly state their positions on LGBT issues in order for the city's residents to make informed decisions. He further welcomed feedback from the community on his platform, describing it as "in its draft form."
"This is not carved in stone but I think as one candidate's best foot forward about how we can put in writing and make the commitment with ideas," Chico added. "I want this campaign to be about ideas, not about generalities ... It's about what we think is the right thing to do and it continues to flesh out the future as we see Chicago's future."
Chico, an attorney and lifelong Chicagoan, has a long history of achievements in city government dating back to 1977, including serving as Daley's chief of staff from 1992 to 1995 and Chicago Public Schools' president of the board of trustees from 1995 to 2001. Most recently, Daley appointed Chico to the City Colleges of Chicago's board of trustees.
Preliminary polling in the mayoral race has thus far favored Obama's former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, although at least 15 petitions filed to date have challenged whether Emanuel meets the city's residency requirement of living in Chicago for at least one year prior to an election. Former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun, U.S. Congressman Danny Davis, state Senator James Meeks and City Clerk Miguel Del Valle are other leading contenders in the race.