"I want to be a safety net for the citizens of the 5th district and make sure that they have somebody listening, looking out for their best interests and being a champion for their issues and concerns." —Lamont Robinson Jr.
As a small-business owner serving Bronzeville and Humboldt Parkand a mentor through, and director of, the Kappa Leadership Institute, a non-profit that helps African-American male high school students prepare for higher education through test prep and college toursRobinson said he believes in paying it forward. "I've been very, very fortunate; and, for me, these are just others ways for me to give back to my community," says Robinson, when speaking of his work as a local insurance agent and helping students.
A Democrat running unopposed for the Illinois House ( 5th District ), Robinson has received endorsements from the Equality Illinois PAC, Chicago Teachers Union and Planned Parenthood, among other organizations.
Windy City Times: Earlier this year, you talked about the specific priorities you'd have as a state legislator to help the LGBT community, such as making social services more local to your district and job placement for trans folks. Are those priorities the same and, if not, how and why have they changed?
Lamont Robinson Jr.: They're definitely the same, but I will tell you that I have met with folks at Howard Brown, the AIDS Foundation and other nonprofits that work in the HIV prevention space to understand what their issues and concerns are. What has come out of those meetings is that we need to do Medicaid expansion, put funding into getting to zero by 2030, and really having a stable budget to make sure that human services, particularly for the LGBTQ community, is included. That is certainly my plan of attack: making sure our resources are divvied up, particularly to our community.
WCT: What are your thoughts on the repeal of laws that mandate criminal penalties for the transmission of HIV/AIDS?
LRJ: It's something, to be honest with you, that I have not studied. But any time we're increasing penalties in this society, it can be problematic.
WCT: Do you support the decriminalization of marijuana and favor restorative- justice measures?
LRJ: I certainly do.
WCT: In the past you've said that "we need to make sure that we are supporting and putting funding toward our LGBTQ homeless teens." What are your plans for making that happen?
LRJ: It's going to be working with nonprofits and making sure that we have resources from the state and city to be able to stem homelessness. I think there are a couple things that lead up to homeless: 1 ) lack of affordable housing, 2 ) lack of education, and 3 ) folks being unable to find jobs that are sustainable. There's a lot of other parts to it that I'd like to conquer, as well: putting money into our neighborhood schools; making sure that we continue to fight for $15 an hour; making sure that our trans brothers and sisters feel comfortable and can stay in school, and also that the jobs are there for them specifically.
WCT: Do you support banning employment discrimination based on criminal records?
LRJ: Yes, I do; that's another barrier to folks getting jobs. In my district, there's high unemployment because of discrimination. What I also want to look at is bringing green energy jobs into the district [and] I've been working with former state representative Elaine Nekritz on that.
WCT: With the midterms coming up and reports of voter suppression all over the country, there's also a lot of public debate about whether, for example, felons should be able to vote once they're out of jail. What are your thoughts on that?
LRJ: Once someone pays their debt to society and has done their time, I think most definitely they should be able to vote. Hands down.
WCT: When you hear about what's been happening in Georgia with Brian Kemp kicking voters off the rolls, what do you think are some measures that can be taken to help ensure that people, marginalized groups in particular, can exercise their voting rights?
LRJ: We need to make sure that we're educating people on what they need to be able to register to vote; make sure that we don't have laws that are barriers to someone who wants to vote, particularly in the trans community. For instance, someone might not want to give up their ID, right? We have to make sure we're making it easy and accessible. We have to go out to communities, meeting people where they are, to get them to understand the importance of voting and that their voices can be heard.
WCT: Speaking of barriers, how does it feel to know that you'll probably be the first openly gay, African-American male Illinois state rep?
LRJ: I'm certainly humbled and honored by that. I also want to make sure that I represent the 5th district entirely. That's what I plan to do. And also making sure that I keep an eye on issues and concerns that affect our community across the state of Illinois is important to me.
WCT: What do you plan to do to lessen the violence on the south end of your district? In the past you've referenced community policing?
LRJ: We definitely need to make sure that we're putting more resources into community policing. One of the main issues that I heard, and continue to hear while out in the district, is the lack of jobs. My number one priority is to make sure that I create jobs in my district, which I believe will stem the violence that we're seeing. We need to create opportunities for economic development and for people to start businesses.
WCT: Can you explain what your idea of community policing would be?
LRJ: My idea of community policing is having police officers that are stationed, and if not stationed, have a certain block or area that is theirs so that the neighbors know "Officer Smith" is our direct contact. Officer Smith needs to be able to build relationships in that community and know the residents; that way, if something does happen, the residents know that they can go to that police officer. What I'm hearing is that the officers in the community don't look like them, they don't go to them, and we need to change that. Also, that those officers are at community events, that they work with the state rep and aldermen to be part of the fabric of the neighborhood.
WCT: More so than being seen in the neighborhood and looking like the people that they represent, how would you start building necessary trust, especially given the tensions between police and people of color?
LRJ: The police department, hopefully with support from our next mayor and next superintendent, needs to follow the suggestions from the investigative report on CPD from the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and United States Attorney's Office Northern District of Illinois ( for reference: www.justice.gov/opa/file/925846/download ).
There's years of mismanagement there, but we need to start someplace. I believe the Justice report is a good place to start to fix the issues that have been rampant. From my district's standpoint, when we talk about community policing, good relationships with the police are extremely important. Also making sure we put more money into training officers, particularly around sensitivity in the LGBTQ community.
Learn more about Lamont Robinson Jr. at www.votelamontrobinson.com .