Borrowing a page from the campaign that resulted in the appointment of a previously unmatched number of openly LGBT people to President Obama's administration, a coalition of Chicago's leading LGBT community organizers has launched a project it hopes will make a similar impact on the city's newly elected mayor later this year.
Announced Feb. 9 at the mayoral candidate forum held at the Adler School of Professional Psychology, the Chicago Appointments Project is a campaign intended to identify and recruit well-qualified, openly LGBT individuals from the community and advocate for their appointment to the next mayor's administration. The project is a joint effort between Equality Illinois, the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay & Lesbian Leadership Institute.
Debra Shore, the openly lesbian commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, said the idea came after witnessing the success of the Presidential Appointments Project, a campaign led by the Gay & Lesbian Leadership Institute in collaboration with other groups.
Beginning in mid-2008, Shore and other LGBT leaders throughout the country began to identify, recruit and gather the resumes of openly LGBT people who were well suited for appointment to the Obama administration.
"The Obama administration, I am told, was so impressed by the organization and the thoroughness of the effort," Shore said. "They said the LGBT community was better organized than any constituency group in this regard."
The next step, she said, seemed naturalto pilot the model at a state or municipal level. With Chicago on the verge of electing its first new mayor in just over two decades, the opportunity to do exactly that is now. While acknowledging current Mayor Richard M. Daley has done "very well" in appointing quite a few LGBT people to leadership positions within the city, Shore said the interest is now in avoiding a backslide from that achievement.
"We want to be ready and be able to assist [ the next mayor ] ," Shore added. "We want to make the case that there are many worthy, talented members of our community and that the next mayor and the city as a whole would be well-served to have them working in the new administration."
Bernard Cherkasov, Equality Illinois chief executive officer, said the project, if successful, would help de-sensationalize the fact the community is already present in vastly diverse areas of government and city life alike.
"We are already everywhere, in every profession and industry but are often invisible," Cherkasov said. "But we are one of the largest cities in the world and this effort would communicate a strong message. We are certain this will be a quite productive effort for our community."
Both Cherkasov and Shore indicated they had received positive feedback from all the leading candidates who remain in the mayoral race.
Shore added that the benefit of having openly LGBT people in within city administration can be crucial not only in terms of visibility but also in terms of decision-making and educating co-workers. As the first open lesbian elected to countywide office, Shore is no stranger to this fact. Prior to her election, the district did not offer domestic partner health benefits. When she asked why the benefits had not been offered, Shore recalls being told, "Nobody asked."
"I'm confident we'll see the appointments," Shore said. "Having people in the positions where policies are set and the budget is made, having a seat at that table, is vital not only on behalf of our community, but because we will ask the questions and advocate for not only the members of our community, but for others throughout Chicago who are discriminated against."
Regarding the project, a Rahm Emanuel campaign spokesperson said, "If he has the privilege of serving as mayor, Rahm would ensure that both the mayor's staff and department leadership are reflective of the diversity in the city."
Other candidates asked by Windy City Times to comment on the Chicago Appointments Project did not respond by the press deadline. In their responses to the LGBT community coalition's mayoral questionnaire, however, several other candidates indicated they were also in favor of including openly LGBT people in their administrative hiring.
Interested applicants can visit www.eqil.org/appointments.html to learn more about the project or submit their resumes. All information submitted, according to organizers, will be confidential and shared only with the project team.