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Reflecting on Daley's LGBT past
by Rex Wockner

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Strongly pro-gay Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who has led the city for 21 years, announced Sept. 7 that he will not run for a seventh term.

Apart from a series of run-ins with ACT UP/Chicago in the late '80s and early '90s, Daley has been nothing short of a hero to most of the city's LGBT community.

In 1989, he became the first mayor to ride in the Chicago gay pride parade while in office.

Two years later, Daley set up the nation's first municipally sponsored Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame and proceeded to personally hand out the awards nearly every year since.

In 1998, he redecorated the city's gay business strip, North Halsted Street, with a series of giant Flash-Gordon-esque retrofuturistic rainbow pylons. When some residents objected to the official gayification of the street, fearing for their property values, Daley thundered, "I won't let the homophobes run this city!"

He has been a supporter of same-sex marriage since 2004.

Daley went on to serve as honorary co-chair of Gay Games VII in 2006 and, in 2007, was honorary chair of the capital campaign to get the city's new LGBT center built.

At the Games' opening ceremonies, Daley said: "Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community have contributed to Chicago in every imaginable way—in business, education, the arts and neighborhood development. They deserve to have the city of Chicago standing on their side, and it will continue to do so, as long as I am mayor of this great city."

Daley was pro-gay before it was cool. He decided long ago that gays make neighborhoods better, and that seemed to be that for him. He never wavered. His spoken defenses of the city's gays were straightforward and from the gut.

The mayor's conflicts with ACT UP/Chicago came to a head on Feb. 12, 1992, when he and six members of the group engaged in a shouting match at a meeting of the gay business group Chicago Professional Networking Association.

ACT UP members were angry that the city's AIDS budget allegedly had been stagnant for several years and that, due to a then-new policy of not working on Sundays, Daley had missed AIDS Walk and the gay pride parade, among other issues.

"I have been in the forefront as a public official dealing with the gay and lesbian community," Daley told the hecklers. "You don't see the governor, you don't see any other elected official. I'm right here! And I don't hide! I don't hide from the gay and lesbian community as mayor of the city of Chicago! The gay and lesbian community has a ( yearly ) reception not at a Hilton hotel but at the mayor's City Hall on the fifth floor ( where my office is ) . ... And the AIDS budget each year goes up in the city of Chicago."

"That's a lie!" the protesters yelled back. "It hasn't gone up in three years! It's a million dollars. It's the same as it was! ... You're lying!"

"I'm just as concerned as anybody else," Daley said. "Don't make me one who's insincere and not concerned about the AIDS issue."

The protesters then lambasted Daley for having attended the wake of Danny Sotomayor, who had been ACT UP/Chicago's spiritual leader and perhaps Daley's fiercest critic ever. "Liar!" they shouted. "Why did you go to Danny Sotomayor's funeral? Why. Did. You. Go. To. Danny. Sotomayor's. Funeral?!"

At that point, pandemonium ensued and CPNA ejected ACT UP from the gathering.

Daley then said: "I always remember Danny Sotomayor. I went to his wake. ... I went there out of respect for him and his family. Now, he's a strong advocate. I used to see him all the time. He'd, you know, scream and yell in my face. I said: 'Danny, why you yelling at me? I'm here. This is a reception we're having. This is what we're doing. I'm not perfect. But don't try to make me the one, like, insensitive or not concerned. There's a lot of other people who won't even talk to you, won't even shake your hand, listen to you, won't understand what you're saying.'"

As for ACT UP's tactics, Daley said: "To get up and say anything, that's their right to do anything, but after a time you have to say: 'Hey, let's move on. I've heard. I've listened. We are trying to do it. It's not fast enough. You're right, it's not fast enough.'"

"You know why it's not fast enough?" he continued. "When one person dies, you're right, it's not fast enough. It's not fast enough for you or me or anybody else when you see one person die. And one thing I found out—that we're all in this together. We're not separate, we're not higher or lower, we're all together. And these issues that confront any community confront the city of Chicago. And what we're trying to do here in our city is to truly work together."

A little more than three months after the showdown—and an even worse blowup seven weeks later, when 40 furious AIDS activists torpedoed the mayor with vicious insults for 90 minutes as he and more than 500 gays and lesbians marched through gay neighborhoods in response to an anti-gay shooting—Daley relented on AIDS spending, and the City Council voted 46-0 to boost funding to $3.57 million.

"This is a very serious health and emotional problem and we have to recommit ourselves," Daley said.

According to Windy City Times and the Chicago Tribune, one of the people who may run to replace Daley is Alderman Tom Tunney, who is openly gay.

—Assistance: Bill Kelley

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