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Kelly Cassidy on marriage, activism
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times

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Depending on where you stand on an issue, Kelly Cassidy can be your best friend or your mortal enemy. It's a quality the recent appointee prides herself on. The freshman state rep says she intends to be annoying in her opposition to "concealed carry" legislation in Illinois, and she admits to telling anti-gay lobbyists to stop wasting her time.

Cassidy, a Rogers Park resident and a lesbian mother of three, got her start in Chicago as the legislative director for the National Organization for Women. She went on to work in Sen. John Cullerton's district office before holding multiple roles in the Cook County State's Attorney's office. She was appointed in May to fill the 14th Dist. house seat.

But as her political star has risen, so too have criticisms that she has become a Democratic Party insider. Windy City Times caught up with Cassidy and questioned her about that perception and about why she is feels like the best pick for her office.

Windy City Times: You are someone who started as a community activist and moved into politics. How has that transition been?

Kelly Cassidy: I think I have really done a great job for many years of bridging those two roles and carrying them out simultaneously and continue to in many ways in this role. So, it is funny because when my appointment was announced, the Sun Times headline was "Lesbian Activist." [ Laughs ] It was sort of hilarious, but that's obviously how the mainstream media writes headlines.

I think that we each carry different perceptions of what words mean, whether it's "working from the inside" or being an activist. I actually think that all those roles are critically important to a successful movement, and I think that people can play multiple roles in any given.

WCT: What do you consider to be your most important legislative priorities right now?

Kelly Cassidy: For all of us, we have to be focused on getting our state's finances in order and getting this budget passed in a way that doesn't harm the most vulnerable folks in the community. You go there, and you're done, and obviously we can't be done because the needs are too great.

I did an interview ... about the marriage bill, and somebody asked, "Do you think that you're going to hear from critics that this is a bad year to push this because you have to pass the budget first?" I said, "We always have to pass a budget but we also have a responsibility to carry out good policies."

Public safety: Going about that in a way that balances the need for public safety with the need for smarter policies that spend less money that actually make us safer, that's going to be big. And fighting the coming wave of "concealed carry" is something that I'm quite excited to be part of. That's going to be a big fight.

WCT: What do you think are the most pressing issues facing the LGBT community?

Kelly Cassidy: It depends on where you are in the community. As a lawmaker representing, among many other things. our community, I have to be mindful that marriage is important to a segment of the community, elder issues are important to a segment of the community, healthcare issues are important. So, you cannot say marriage is the most important or AIDS drug funding is the most important because we are not one mind.

So introducing the hate-crimes act to add gender identity is going to be somebody's highest priority within the community. Introducing family medical leave so that civil-union couples are covered is going to be someone else's highest priority.

WCT: In this race, the community gets to choose between two out lesbians. What do you bring to the table that sets you apart?

Kelly Cassidy: My combined experience, my ability to hit the ground running, pass legislation within the first couple of weeks within arriving there, tough legislation, the relationship building I'm able to do at a time when we need to be on the ground quickly and really the breadth of my experience and the issues that I can bring there really sets me apart.

WCT: You introduced a marriage-equality bill. Many activists say this won't pass this year.

Kelly Cassidy: Well, it took 30 years to pass human rights. It took three years to pass civil unions. I like the way those timelines shrink. Is it going to happen this year? Who knows? It would be remarkable if it were to rocket to the top of the house agenda. Whether we get there this year or not, shouldn't be disconcerting to folks... very few substantive bills get passed the first time they're introduced.

WCT: Marriage equality has been introduced before in Illinois, however.

Kelly Cassidy: It has been introduced a few times. This time is different in that it acknowledges the existence of civil unions and the transition to be made, so we did have to go about it differently. But yes, this is not the first year that marriage has been introduced.

WCT: You have been billed as the political insider in this race by some. How do you respond to that?

Kelly Cassidy: The reality is, I am related to no one in Chicago that I didn't give birth to. I am the original nobody [ that ] nobody sent. I came from a little island on the west coast of Florida. I came here 20 years ago. I didn't know a soul. The people that are supporting me are supporting me because I spent 20 years getting things done. They've seen it happen, and they are impressed by that and they like working with me.

WCT: You have also taken heat from conservatives. Do you have a favorite criticism you've received?

Kelly Cassidy: The NRA lobbyist just threatened to endorse me if I introduced anymore gun-control bills. You know, "I'll show you, I'll give you my support and then everybody in your district will hate you for it."

WCT: What is the single most important thing for voters to know about you?

Kelly Cassidy: I don't shrink from a fight, whether that's about passing a bill or winning an election, and if I say that I am with you to get something done, I am not going to back down.

See .

WCT: What is the single most important thing for voters to know about you?

Kelly Cassidy: I don't shrink from a fight, whether that's about passing a bill or winning an election, and if I say that I am with you to get something done, I am not going to back down.

See .

This election chart was updated online on Friday March 9 with corrections and updates, most notably in the 8th subcircuit judicial race .

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