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VIEWS The departure of Rick Garcia
by Juan Calderon and Roberto Sanabria
2011-01-12

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The Puerto Rican/Latino community is reeling from the forced departure of our friend and staunchest ally—Rick García. His tenure at Equality Illinois ( EI ) bracketed a historical moment—one that saw our community enjoy unprecedented attention and solidarity from across town. Rick García always gets it. He knows a true ally must exhibit considerable respect for the community he chooses to engage. He did not ride into Humboldt Park on a white horse to save brown people. Although he is not shy to share his opinion, we find his wisdom valuable and he is quick to affirm our right to determine the course. He is an uncommon example of a great man with great humility.

Rick has been at the front and center of struggles for LGBTQ rights ranging from the earliest municipal anti-discrimination laws to the recently celebrated passage of the civil-unions bill in the General Assembly. There is no significant LGBTQ-related structure or concept around this State that does not bear his fingerprints. We at Vida/SIDA and the Puerto Rican Cultural Center will always honor our friendship with this exceptional man, and it fills us with pride that he has honored us in the same manner.

We are outraged that Equality Illinois—an organization that enjoyed the deserved reputation as a bulwark of LGBTQ concerns—has begun to slip and squander decades of good will. CEO Bernard Cherkasov must not assume our community will lick its wounds and politely wait for Mr. García's replacement. Rick's weighty talents and his capacity to move seamlessly between Springfield, City Hall and community-based organizations are unique. He has never, ever refused to help or participate when our community has called him. And we have called him often.

He has brought state reps and congressmen to meet and work with our leadership, and he has even served twice as a judge in the annual Ms. Paseo Boricua Pageant ( pageant for transgender LGBTQ Latino youth in Humboldt Park. ) Currently, Rick is working diligently as a volunteer consultant and advocate for our community's plan to construct a homeless shelter for LGBTQ youth in Humboldt Park. The disgraceful firing of our friend creates a wedge between Equality Illinois and Latinos around the state. Rick Garcia's absence is a vacuum where Latinos were once at the table. Moreover, it flaunts a callous dismissal of the collaboration the Latino LGBTQ community had begun to erect with Equality Illinois. Before any meaningful collaboration can progress, establishment of trust is essential. Mr. Cherkasov's ill-advised firing of Illinois' highest profile and respected gay Latino has sabotaged our trust and laid ruin to our collaboration.

The two of us do not presume to speak for the entire LGBTQ community of Humboldt Park, but we do speak for the considerable number we know in this community who have met and worked with Rick. We are all dismayed by what appears to be a tantrum thrown by a CEO with discretionary powers.

Rick Garcia has always been outspoken. He is a visionary, a leader, and a statesman. He is the intellectual author of a new discourse—not one of tolerance, but of acceptance. Perhaps it is not ironic that a man who fights for the dignity of others is targeted and attacked, but Rick deserves better—especially from one of our community's own purported institutions. Mr. Cherkasov's firing of Rick Garcia was tragically myopic. Rick is not only a treasure of considerable integrity, but he is a historical figure. Equality Illinois must see this. It cannot disrespect our heroes and institutions if it hopes to remain relevant.

Juan M. Calder�"n was born and raised in Humboldt Park, the center of Chicago's Puerto Rican community. As the youngest director of the Puerto Rican Cultural center project, Vida/SIDA Bartolo Hernandez de Jesús, Calder�"n oversees the daily operation of many of Chicago's Puerto Rican/Latino prevention interventions, advocacy and LGBTQ services in Chicago's Near Northwest Side.

Roberto Sanabria was born and raised in Lake View, and has lived in Humboldt Park since 1988. Currently, Roberto is the equal employment officer and director of university outreach at Northeastern Illinois University.


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