Do Chicago’s Mayoral Candidates Care About Queer and Trans Chicagoans?

Only one candidate has staked out a strong position in favor of LGBTQ rights—and it isn’t Rahm Emanuel.

H. Melt

(Daniel X. O'Neil / Flickr)

Jane Byrne is often remem­bered as Chicago’s first and only woman may­or. It’s less well-known that she was also the first may­or to rec­og­nize the LGBT com­mu­ni­ty,” accord­ing to advo­ca­cy orga­ni­za­tion Equal­i­ty Illi­nois. Byrne end­ed police raids on gay bars, was the first may­or to march in the Pride Parade and issued the first exec­u­tive order to end dis­crim­i­na­tion against gay peo­ple in city jobs and services.

When asked about urgent issues like queer youth homelessness, poverty in the trans community and police violence against trans women of color, he avoided answering the questions directly. Towards the end of the interview, Emanuel finally admitted, “I owe you more work.”

As a young queer and trans vot­er in Chica­go, I’m proud of this his­to­ry but also dis­ap­point­ed that the cur­rent may­oral can­di­dates have failed to address the most press­ing issues fac­ing Chicago’s diverse queer and trans com­mu­ni­ties — except for one can­di­date who clear­ly out­shines the rest. 

In a recent inter­view with Windy City Times, Chicago’s LGBT week­ly, May­or Rahm Emanuel demon­strat­ed his lack of knowl­edge about the spe­cif­ic needs of queer and trans Chicagoans, espe­cial­ly those who are most vul­ner­a­ble in the city.

When asked about urgent issues like queer youth home­less­ness, pover­ty in the trans com­mu­ni­ty and police vio­lence against trans women of col­or, he avoid­ed answer­ing the ques­tions direct­ly, prov­ing that he is large­ly unaware of the chal­lenges fac­ing queer and trans peo­ple in the city, along with how to address them. Towards the end of the inter­view, Emanuel final­ly admit­ted, I owe you more work.”

May­oral can­di­dates Bob Fioret­ti and Jesus Chuy” Gar­cía were also inter­viewed by Windy City Times and pro­vid­ed more thought­ful and com­pas­sion­ate respons­es. Both expressed an inter­est in cre­at­ing safe hous­ing for home­less queer youth, advo­cat­ed for greater pub­lic edu­ca­tion around HIV/AIDS and dis­cussed their polit­i­cal his­to­ries in sup­port of gay rights — Fioret­ti as an ear­ly sup­port­er of mar­riage equal­i­ty and García’s vote in favor of Chicago’s Human Rights Ordi­nance in 1988. Fioret­ti com­ment­ed, You don’t have to be active in a com­mu­ni­ty to sup­port it.”

While Fioretti’s com­ments felt a bit vague, Gar­cía voiced his sup­port for undoc­u­ment­ed LGBTQ immi­grants, praised the work of Project VIDA, a com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tion focused on sex­u­al health edu­ca­tion, and dis­cussed his rela­tion­ships with trans peo­ple in Lit­tle Village: 

I live half a block from a club in Lit­tle Vil­lage. It used to be La Cue­va. … I’ve encoun­tered many mem­bers of the trans­gen­der com­mu­ni­ty over the decades, so I’ve had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to chat with them … I’ve been able to get a bet­ter under­stand­ing of their real­i­ty, their chal­lenges, their bul­ly­ing, the ridicule that they’re sub­ject­ed to.”

William Dock” Walls and Willie Wil­son were not inter­viewed by the paper. They did not fill out a sur­vey sent by Windy City Times, or attend the Equal­i­ty Illi­nois Gala, which was attend­ed by Emanuel, Fioret­ti and Gar­cía. Their thoughts on Chicago’s queer and trans pop­u­la­tions were dif­fi­cult to find.

While Emanuel, Fioret­ti and García’s com­ments to Windy City Times gave some insight into the can­di­dates’ stances on these issues, the city’s LGBT news­pa­per should not be the only one ask­ing ques­tions about how to improve the lives of queer and trans Chicagoans.

These ques­tions have been absent for the major­i­ty of the race — from the may­oral debates, the can­di­dates’ plat­forms, and their pub­lic com­ments. In addi­tion, LGBT orga­ni­za­tions seem to have tak­en lit­tle inter­est in this year’s cam­paign, despite the fact that they orga­nized a debate dur­ing the last may­oral race.

This silence is unac­cept­able, espe­cial­ly in a city that is home to so many queer and trans indi­vid­u­als and orga­ni­za­tions. Queer and trans com­mu­ni­ties will con­tin­ue to sup­port and cel­e­brate each oth­er, regard­less of who is may­or — but peo­ple in our own city need to stop ignor­ing us too. 

While Jane Byrne was only may­or for one term, her suc­ces­sor was anoth­er politi­cian who wel­comed the con­cerns of queer Chicagoans — Harold Wash­ing­ton. Like Byrne, Wash­ing­ton was a cham­pi­on of gay and les­bian rights. In 2007, he was induct­ed into the Chica­go Gay and Les­bian Hall of Fame as a Friend of the Com­mu­ni­ty” because of his ground­break­ing work as may­or. His lega­cy includes the cre­ation of the first Com­mit­tee on Gay and Les­bian Issues.

In an inter­view with — you guessed it—Windy City Times in 1986, Wash­ing­ton said, It’s pret­ty clear that the gay and les­bian com­mu­ni­ty is becom­ing a potent — of course it’s not there yet — polit­i­cal force in this coun­try, and any­one who does­n’t rec­og­nize it is not going to be in office, it’s just that simple.”

Chica­go must elect a may­or who active­ly sup­ports the needs of queer and trans peo­ple. Queer and trans peo­ple need access to basic ser­vices like employ­ment, edu­ca­tion, health­care, and hous­ing that are accom­mo­dat­ing to our spe­cif­ic needs.

In Illi­nois, 74% of respon­dents to the Nation­al Trans­gen­der Dis­crim­i­na­tion Sur­vey report­ed job harass­ment or mis­treat­ment, 80% expe­ri­enced harass­ment in school (grades K‑12), 22% post­poned med­ical care due to dis­crim­i­na­tion and 13% became home­less due to their gen­der iden­ti­ty or expres­sion. In the Unit­ed States, these issues need to be addressed on a city, state and fed­er­al level

Like Chicago’s first woman may­or and the first black may­or before him, the can­di­date who is most like­ly to address these con­cerns would be anoth­er first — the first Lati­no may­or in Chicago’s his­to­ry, Chuy García.

Gar­cía broke the silence around LGBTQ issues in the may­oral race by releas­ing a detailed plan of action on Feb­ru­ary 12, just under two weeks before elec­tion day and after ear­ly vot­ing already began. Gar­cía iden­ti­fied six issues relat­ed to the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty that he plans to address as may­or: par­tic­i­pa­tion in city admin­is­tra­tion, vio­lence against trans­gen­der peo­ple, LGBTQ youth safe­ty, ser­vices for seniors, HIV/AIDS and resources for LGBTQ vet­er­ans. In his plan for LGBTQ Chicagoans, he wrote,

I under­stand that LGBTQ peo­ple of col­or face spe­cial chal­lenges in being heard and in secur­ing their rights. I will work to make sure there is racial and eth­nic diver­si­ty in my pro­posed revival of the Human Rights Advi­so­ry Coun­cils and in all groups address­ing issues fac­ing LGBTQ peo­ple in the city. I also believe that the cur­rent admin­is­tra­tion has neglect­ed peo­ple in the neigh­bor­hoods through­out Chica­go, and I will work close­ly with LGBTQ advo­cates to make sure the needs of all mem­bers of this diverse com­mu­ni­ty are met in all neigh­bor­hoods on all sides of the city.

Short­ly after the announce­ment, a coali­tion of over 30 LGBTQ activists announced their sup­port for Gar­cía. The coali­tion rep­re­sents an incred­i­bly broad spec­trum of peo­ple work­ing to bet­ter the lives of queer and trans Chicagoans, includ­ing his­to­ri­an John D’Emilio, trans activist Alex­is Mar­tinez, and co-founder of Affin­i­ty Com­mu­ni­ty Ser­vices, Lisa Marie Pick­ens. Windy City Times also gave him an A+” rat­ing.

It seems clear that unlike the rest of Chicago’s may­oral can­di­dates, Gar­cía will fight not only for queer and trans peo­ple in the city, but for all com­mu­ni­ties in Chica­go who have been ignored far too long under the cur­rent administration. 

H. Melt is a tran­squeer poet and artist and the author of SIR­vival in the Sec­ond City: Tran­squeer Chica­go Poems. They live in Chicago.
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