Hoan Huynh is running in the 13th Illinois House District primary against four other Democratic candidates to replace the long-time out gay state Rep. Greg Harris, who is retiring at the end of this current term.
The new district boundaries encompass all of the Uptown, Arcadia Terrace, Bowmanville, Budlong Woods, Lincoln Square, Ravenswood neighborhoods and parts of the Andersonville, Buena Park and Lakeview neighborhoods.
Windy City Times: Give the voters a little snapshot of yourself. How will your background outside of politics play into your legislative agenda?
Hoan Huynh: I am a refugee from Vietnam. My dad served in the South Vietnamese Army during the Vietnam War and spent five years in a prison camp. My mom is Chinese-Vietnamese and experienced homelessness during the war with her sisters and mom. In the period following the war we were given political asylum and started from scratch when we came to America. We were resettled by refugee services and all seven of us were put in a one bedroom apartment. My mom worked 16 hours a day in a factory. She had an eighth grade education. A lot of folks fought for me to have an opportunity so I was able to attend college at Yale University and then Harvard University with a master's in policy and management. I have spent my entire life working in community investments in Chicago to make sure that we invest in infrastructure, small businesses, workforce development programs, educational initiatives and mental health services. Really anything we believe that will make everywhere in Chicago a much safer and equitable city for our young people and families. I know a lot of folks who were left behind during this pandemic. Everyone in our city and state deserves a fair shot and that is what we are trying to do with this campaign and what we will do once elected as this district's state representative.
The 13th House district is one of the most diverse districts in America. Forty-five percent of this district is ethnic minority that includes folks from all walks of life and socio-economic backgrounds with over 90 different languages spoken. We have resettled thousands of refugees and immigrants into this district. This is a very socio-economically diverse district and that reflects my experience coming from a low-income background to where I am today working in community investments for things like gun violence prevention, educational initiatives and job creation in our city and state as well as homelessness and refugee issues in my Uptown neighborhood. We must be more innovative and efficient in solving some of our most pressing issues which I have already done outside of the political arena. I believe fundamentally that we have to solve challenges in partnership with communities and co-govern with communities as well. That is something I have done my entire life and something I intend to do as we legislate with our communities in mind. I plan to listen to them and also subject-matter experts on every issue.
WCT: What job did you hold prior to running for this office and also what was your role in distributing COVID-19 relief funds?
HH: I have worked at Chicago Beyond, which is a community investments organization where I led investment projects prior to running for office. I resigned from that position in order to run for office full-time.
During the very onset of the pandemic, we saw that there was massive chaos in the supply chain in Chicago and across Illinois. A lot of organizations across Chicago said they were having trouble accessing food boxes, hand sanitizer, masks, diapers or whatever else they needed so Chicago Beyond set up a make-shift warehouse on the South Side of Chicago. We had accounts with different entities to bring in these supplies. When these supplies came to the warehouse we also were employing young people from South and West Side neighborhoods to help us with logistics. We were able to get out thousands of food boxes per week. Over the course of the pandemic, we spent over $250,000 a week so that is about one million dollars a month and this went on for a year and a half. We served hundreds of thousands of families and also equipped our community organizations with funding and resources to deal with the mental health fallout, increasing gun violence on our streets and education initiatives that our students needed. I was the lead on this rapid-response fund to make sure we were moving capital to these organizations that desperately needed the money. All of this funding came from private donations to Chicago Beyond.
WCT: Why did you decide to run for office? What makes you the best candidate for this race?
HH: A lot of folks were left behind during this pandemic. I have seen my neighbors, young people and small businesses unable to access resources and opportunities at all. For me, it is about ensuring everyone in our district gets educational and workforce opportunities while also building a more inclusive economy and future for everyone. I am running to address the affordable housing, healthcare and small business challenges we face as well as protecting human rights for women, the LGBTQ+ community and refugees.
I bring a wide variety of experiences to the table including being a refugee which is different from everyone else in this race. I am the best candidate because of my community investments and policy trained backgrounds as well as running the most inclusive campaign. This includes being the only multilingual (English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese and Amharic) campaign in this race. We have to expand democracy and voting access for everyone. This is a people-powered campaign.
WCT: What LGBTQ, HIV/AIDS and reproductive-justice legislation do you plan to work on that has not already been addressed via current state laws?
HH: Reproductive rights are under attack right now across the country. Illinois has to be a sanctuary state in the Midwest to protect these fundamental human rights. We have to codify Roe v. Wade into the Illinois constitution and make sure we are also addressing the legislation and infrastructure needed to help folks leaving neighboring states to receive medical care because of their anti-abortion laws.
There are a number of people in the LGBTQ+ community who are heavily discriminated against. We know trans folks who lost their lives and we need to make sure they are protected. This includes resources to investigate their murders as hate crimes. There are ways we can increase mental health services and housing, education, employment and credit access for the LGBTQ+ and especially trans community. From my past work, I have seen that there are many LGBTQ+ young people who are experiencing homelessness and we have to do something about all of this through legislation.
We need to remove the ban on gay and bisexual men being able to donate blood and also support research into whether or not those who are HIV positive could someday donate blood.
WCT: In what ways will you ensure that the Getting to Zero Illinois 2030 initiative comes to fruition should you be elected?
HH: We have to expand access to PrEP and ensure that people living with HIV continue to get the care they need and that only comes with proper funding. Addressing equity in the system is also vital so every area of the city and state is covered properly and that includes removing racist policies and practicing cultural competency. Access to affordable housing and keeping people safe will also reduce the number of new HIV infections. Prioritizing trauma-based care and taking away the stigma will also help with these efforts. Additionally, we need to make sure that those who are HIV positive will be covered by health insurance whether it comes from the private sector or Medicaid/Medicare.
WCT: Tell the voters why you support HB2542 (Illinois Name Change Modernization Act) and what it does for those who need to [make] name changes on official documents?
HH: We are hearing from our neighbors and other district residents that this is a huge issue and that they feel anguish over it. As government officials we need to take away the barriers that exist for this name change process. We have to make sure everyone in our communities is able to be their authentic selves in all aspects of their lives and that includes their official documents. Changing your name is difficult and it takes forever and it should not be this way. The only way to make it easier is to pass this law and also improve government delivery services so they are human-centered and efficient.
WCT: Looking at the state's COVID response over the past two plus years, is there anything that should have been done differently by both the governor and state legislature? Where do you see the state legislature's role going forward regarding this ongoing pandemic?
HH: Our state did a great job making sure that COVID cases went down as well as kept everyone protected. There is always room for improvement. We know that when the funding came out at the federal level it was not done in an equitable manner, that some of our neighborhoods and small businesses were left behind in terms of funding.
We know that the people who lost their lives due to COVID were mostly people of color on the South and West side of Chicago. We have to think about building forward to expand healthcare access in those parts of the city.
WCT: Which endorsements do you want to specifically highlight?
HH: Illinois state Rep. Theresa Mah, The Girl I Guess Voter Guide, One People's Campaign, IVI-IPO, Asian American Midwest Progressives, Asian American Caucus, Run for Something, Northside DFA, Giffords Courage, BradyPAC, Indo-American Democratic Organization and Indivisible IL9
WCT: What is your overall message to IL-13 voters?
HH: There were a lot of inequalities that were exacerbated during this pandemic and a lot of folks were left behind in our district. We need make sure we build forward toward a more inclusive, progressive and equitable future. I intend to expand meaningful access to opportunity and safety for all of us in the 13th district. It is time for a new generation of leadership to step up and make sure we are addressing the challenging times we are living through in progressive ways.
See votehoan.com .
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.