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  WINDY CITY TIMES

LGBT council members promise citywide focus
by Matt Simonette
2015-06-17

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Members of the newly formed LGBT caucus of the Chicago City Council gathered June 17 shortly after the council's monthly meeting to discuss their upcoming work and laud the fact that a diverse swath of constituents would be represented by the caucus' five members.

Among those present were all five openly LGBT Chicago councilmembers: Alds. Raymond Lopez ( 15th ), Deb Mell ( 33rd ), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa ( 35th ), Tom Tunney ( 44th ) and James Cappleman ( 46th ).

Ramirez-Rosa said, "One is the loneliest number. Five is not as lonely. This is definitely historic for the city of Chicago. There's been a lot of work done by trailblazers, but there's a lot of work to be done … to craft ordinances and solutions that will uplift LGBT people of all backgrounds, from all places in the city, that will serve our city as a whole."

Lopez said that LGBT rights were "no longer just a North Side issue. We finally have testimony and recognition—and can bring the message that— [they are] a citywide issue. … The South Side now lends itself to those causes."

Lopez further commended Tunney, the Caucus' chair.

Mell joked that many North Siders sometimes forgot there was a city past Ashland Avenue.

"It's really still amazing to me how far we've come in such a short time," Mell said. "We're ready to get to work for our own constituencies and the community."

Tunney said that the role of the caucus is to "represent the true solidarity and importance of the community for our city," adding that the group "represents the diversity of thought on the council."

Ald. Leslie Hairston peaked in at one point and jokingly offered to represent African-Americans given their lack of that element of diversity.

"One thing that we have in common is that we all were active in LGBT causes before we were ever elected," Cappleman said. "When I moved to Chicago, I lived in Lake View, because I was in the LGBT community and that's where we were safe. This was a time when all of my fiends had experienced some kind of discrimination. Most of my friends had been threatened with violence—I am among those people. We have made huge strides. The fact that there are five aldermen spread throughout the city of Chicago? I am just immensely pleased by that."

Tunney noted that caucus members, in their capacities as either politicians or activists, had individually been working on bullying, public education, transgender rights and HIV issues, among others. But he added, "I think having more of our colleagues spread all over the city will help us with a more inclusive agenda."

The caucus would will work closely together particularly during the next budget process, which is likely to be especially difficult.

"That's the set of priorities for our city—we want to make sure not only that our wards are serviced properly, but our constituencies and our LGBT communities are at the table," Tunney said.

Cappleman addressed the issue of homelessness amongst LGBT youth. "I continue, and I know all of us continue, to work with Department of Children and Family Services, the Department of Public Health and the Mayor's Office to be advocates. We want to make sure that we do a better job of coordinating those services. Because of the all the cuts that are occurring … It's time for us to act very efficiently. You have to be focused on clear outcome measures so that we can be the best advocates we can."

Rosa emphasized that the caucus would address issues pertinent to the transgender community. "We're going to stand up for issues of trans justice and we're going to make sure that we're working with all 50 City Council members to make sure that we bring about protections for that community."

Tunney also discussed this year's Pride Parade, the outcome of which will be closely scrutinized by city officials and Lakeview residents. Many people have complained of bad behavior by celebrants during and after the parade, and have said that police and city services were overwhelmed by the event. Earlier in the spring, parade officials announced additional security and bag-search points.

"This parade is for every Chicagoan, and seems to be a suburban and Midwest attraction, but it is highly congested in a very residential and a great tourist area," Tunney said. "We want to keep it safe. … The most important about Pride is about respect, and that goes for not only how we treat each other but how we treat communities.

"We're in some ways at a tipping point. The parade has gone, in the 13 years that I've been alderman, from being a quarter of a million [spectators] to now close to a million. …Logistically, we can handle the parade. It's really the [other times] over the weekend. We certainly have gotten support from the police, in terms of resources. We want to make sure that we can get our neighborhood back to some semblance of order sooner than what we've been doing it in the past."

"Ald. Tunney and I are working with organizers and police to address those growing pains," Cappleman added. "We want to celebrate. … But it has to be safe as well."



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