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HRC Chicago holds Equality Act panel discussion
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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Human Rights Campaign ( HRC ) Chicago hosted a panel discussion, "The Equality Act & Me," May 29 at Morningstar Inc. to highlight the ways the Equality Act would improve the lives of every LGBTQ person in the United States.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist and ABC Chicago political analyst Laura Washington moderated the event, with panelists U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, Pride Action Tank Executive Director and AIDS Foundation of Chicago Policy and Advocacy Operations Senior Director Kim Hunt, Wintrust Bank Vice President Don Cortelyou, LGBT Chamber of Commerce of Illinois Director Jerome' Holston and Loyola University student, first openly transgender Illinois General Assembly page and Equality Illinois Community Advisory Group member Grayson Alexander.

Ahead of the panel discussion, HRC Regional Organizing Lead Deon Young played a video outlining examples of discrimination that persists nationwide due to the lack of federal protections for LGBTQ people since only 20 states ( including Illinois ) have both sexual orientation and gender identity named as protected classes of people. Young explained that according to studies about 63 percent of LGBTQ people say they have experienced some form of discrimination. He said 70 percent of the entire U.S. population supports legal protections for LGBTQ people nationwide.

Young explained that the Equality Act has additional categories of protections that were not listed in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and these would help not only LGBTQ people, but also women in general and people of color. He said the House of Representatives recently voted on the bill and it passed with bipartisan support—236 to 173 with eight GOP members voting for it and all Democrats present voting yes.

Morningstar, Inc. Global Director of Design David Williams and HRC Steering Committee member and Area Representative Justin Koziatek also spoke ahead of the panel. Williams announced that Morningstar had recently joined the Equality Act Business Coalition.

Washington queried Kelly on the status of the bill and steps forward.

Kelly said she is thrilled the bill passed the House and credits its sponsor, Rep. David Cicilline, for moving it forward, however, there will be a fight in the GOP controlled Senate to bring this to the floor for a vote. She explained this is "really a civil-rights bill."

Washington asked Alexander to describe his page job and what he got from the experience.

Alexander explained that pages are the "little cogs no one sees" running errands for the non-partisan clerk of the Illinois General Assembly and he learned a lot about how things really get done legislatively. In terms of him being the first openly transgender page, Alexander said he is honored to hold that status and have had the opportunity to meet the legislators who were putting forth the Birth Certificate Modernization Act and advocate for it when he was not on the clock.

"It made me appreciate how well protected I am as LGBTQ person in Illinois," said Alexander.

Alexander said he still is concerned for his transgender friends in Missouri who have to worry about passing everyday because they have no state-wide protections.

Washington asked the other panelists to outline how their area of expertise dovetails with what the Equality Act will provide and what they are doing now to address these issues.

Hunt said that, in recent years, she learned the biggest concern for aging LGBTQ people is affirming senior housing facilities since most places are not ready for them to reside there. She explained that many LGBTQ seniors are going back into the closet in these housing facilities. Hunt said this has been addressed with a bill that adds protections for LGBTQ and HIV-positive people to the existing Illinois Elder Care Law and it is awaiting Gov. Pritzker's signature.

Holston explained that there are currently about 300 LGBTQ business owners or inclusive employers in Illinois that the chamber supports in various ways. He said the Equality Act will improve the quality of life for these LGBTQ business-owners so they can thrive and qualify for more government contracts.

Cortelyou, who calls himself a socialist banker, wondered if banks want to make money why would they discriminate against anyone. He said LGBTQ people can be sitting in front of a "bigoted" loan officer who may not work as hard to find a loan they might qualify for or give them a good interest rate. Cortelyou explained that the Equality Act would amend the Equal Credit Opportunity Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes of people.

In terms of arguments against the Equality Act, Kelly said the biggest obstacle is Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell even though, according to Sen. Tammy Baldwin, it could pass the Senate if it was put to a floor vote.

Hunt said many people do not know this is an issue because they think LGBTQ people are already protected on a federal level so public awareness campaigns are vital. She explained that the provisions the Obama administration put into place are being stripped away, especially for transgender people, and the Equality Act will reverse this.

Alexander, Cortelyou and Holston echoed Hunt's comments that education and publicity campaigns about the Equality Act will hasten its passage in the Senate and having it signed into law by the president.

A Q&A session followed.

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