Over 1,350 attendees joined with the advocacy organization Equality Illinois for its 2024 gala the evening of Feb. 3, both to celebrate another year and raise funds to continue its work into the future. Over 100 political officials, including Governor J.B. Pritzker, attended as well.
"There is no gala like a queer gala," joked Equality Illinois CEO Brian Johnson.
On a more serious note, Johnson centered his remarks on an episode of anti-LGBTQ+ vandalism that took place just outside the home he shares with his family: "My heart ached and tore and broke," he recalled feeling.
He added, "None of us are spared [from threats to LGBTQ+-rights and -safety] because we are all in this together. … Our safety and our dignity are on the line like they haven't been in decades."
Equality Illinois's Deputy Director Mony Ruiz-Velasco and Board Member Zahara Bassett presented the 2024 Spotlight Award to the Austin-based Equality Texas advocacy.
According to the event program notes, Equality Texas "stands on the front line of the fight for LGBTQ+ equality in our country in the fact of the hate agenda promulgated by anti-family and anti-equality politicians in Texas."
Equality Texas CEO Ricardo Martinez said at the gala, "There are thousands of people working tirelessly to save our democracy in Texas. … We are all connected. Our actions and our inactions determine our experience."
Pritzker said in his remarks that anti-LGBTQ+ political action is "the hill that homophobic right-wing politicians have chosen to die on. Equality advocates in Texas have allies [here]."
Pritzker further praised activists Rick Garcia and Art Johnston for their parts in founding Equality Illinois: "I remember how hard the early days were for this movement," the governor said.
Later, just before delivering the champagne toast, Johnston, standing alongside Board Member (and Equality Illinois Institute Chair) Butch Trusty, said, "Every time I have the opportunity to stand here, I am filled with hope for the future. We have won before and we will win again."
Board Chair Justin Dejong and Board Treasurer Kelly Emery presented the 2024 Spirit Award to Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner Precious Brady-Davis, who quieted the crowd down by asserting that, "When a Black trans woman is speaking, people should listen."
Brady-Davis said, "I always knew that when I arrived in Chicago, I would find my way," further praising the city as someplace that has "championed" her.
She also decried anti-LGBTQ+ hatred, asking, "What is the alternative world these folks want to see? … I stand here and assure you, we aren't going anywhere."
Board Member Reyna Ortiz and Board Vice Chair Liz Stovall also took part in the program.
Among the elected, non-elected and former public officials and political candidates in attendance Feb. 3 were U.S. Reps. Eric Sorensen and Jesus "Chuy" Garcia; Former Illinois House Majority Leader Greg Harris; Illinois Senate President Don Harmon; Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias; Illinois Treasurer Mike Frerichs; Illinois Human Rights Commission Chair Mona Noriega; state Sens. Sara Feigenholtz and Mike Simmons; state Reps. Kelly Cassidy and Elizabeth Hernandez; Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi; Cook County Court Clerk Iris Martinez; Cook County Commissioner Kevin Morrison; and Alds. Timmy Knudsen and Bennett Lawson.