Chicago mayoral candidates Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas seem to have little in common.
Johnson, a Cook County commissioner, has embraced a more progressive platform that employs everything from a more holistic approach to crime to the promise of a Department of LGBTQ Affairs within the Office of Gender Equity. His campaign website, among other things, contains in-depth insights and offerings covering public safety, environmental issues, reproductive rights, arts and culture, and much more. Vallas' website revolves around his own slate of issues, including environmental issues, economic development, the pension crisis and crime/public safety (which has its own page), although there's no section on LGBTQ+ issues.
Moreover, the endorsements each has gathered primarily reflects a battle of the progressive Johnson versus the more centrist/conservative Vallas (a former Chicago Public Schools CEO), although each has backers who may surprise people. Equality Illinois, United Working Families, Personal PAC and Chicago Teachers Union (CTU); U.S. Reps. Jonathan Jackson, Danny Davis and Jan Schakowsky; LGBTQ+ Illinois state Rep. Kelly Cassidy and openly gay state Sen. Mike Simmons; Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle; queer Chicago Ald. Maria Hadden; and U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are among those backing Johnson. CTU "keeps paying [Johnson] between $83,000 and $103,000 a year, public records show," according to Politico Illinois Playbook.
Vallas has garnered support from the Fraternal Order of Police Chicago #7, the LGBT Chamber of Commerce of Illinois; former Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White; former mayoral candidates Gery Chico, Ja'Mal Green and Willie Wilson; U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush; Chicago Tribune; former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn; openly gay Chicago Alds. Raymond Lopez and Tom Tunney; and Alderman-elect Bennett Lawson (who is succeeding Tunney in the 44th Ward.). He also has received financial support from individuals such as Donald Trump appointee and campaign official Ron Gidwitz (per a Johnson press release).
Windy City Times recently spoke with Johnson about religion, LGBTQ+ rights and his opponent.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Windy City Times: You're the son of a minister [yet] you're pretty progressive and certainly pro-LGBTQ+. Were you raised that way?
Brandon Johnson: Well, let me take it one step further: My grandfather was a pastor as well in one of the most conservative denominations in the country.
My parents were also foster parents, so we constantly had people staying with us for a variety of reasons. But I'll never forget Julia and Vanessa, and they dropped their children off. At the time, we didn't know that Julia and Vanessa were ready to live their truth as lesbians. My parents were pastors of a denomination that had a very conservative line.
Julia and Vanessa were part of our family and part of our churchand Vanessa's son, Ron, was pretty angry; Julia's daughters didn't have to be with us as long or much, but Ron actually had to move in with us because it was difficult for him to have this shift in his life.
We learned early in life that our responsibility was to be loving people. We weren't necessarily raised to engage or be that understanding of LGBTQ+ issues, specifically. We didn't even realize the gravity of [the situation] until we got older. Our home was a spot where people could not only be themselves, but also be loved and supported. It wasn't about acceptance or tolerance; it was about treating people in a righteous way. We don't pass judgment.
As I grew older and matured, [that upbringing] helped me form a platform I'm prepared to use as mayor of Chicago. We all had that one relative, but my mother and father were ahead of their time. That's what you do when you love someoneyou don't condemn or judge.
WCT: What do you think is the biggest problem for the LGBTQ+ community in Chicago?
Johnson: For meespecially in my roles as teacher, organizer and, now, Cook County commissionerit seems that we don't seem to grasp the intersectionality of just everything.
When I was teaching middle school, I had a student who was clear about his identity and sexuality. He had real struggles with his mental health; he struggled with housing and was certainly insecure; and he struggled to get around. So it was hard for him to find a place to lay his head. So when I became a Cook County commissioner, it was important for me to look at how we support the LGBTQ+ community in a holistic way. So that involves having health centers, making sure the educational system has support and making sure there's housing available, right?
I don't want us to get too far ahead of ourselves, but when I worked on the budget for Black Lives [Coalition, consisting of SOUL, The People's Lobby, Chicago Community Bond Fund, National Nurses United and the Shriver Center on Poverty Law] and the equity resources from county government, we put down $100 million into violence preventionand a good portion of that money went into housing support. There's an organization on the West Side of Chicago called Covenant House; the young people who have housing support through this organization are overwhelmingly LGBTQ+.
For me, one of the issues for the LGBTQ+ community that's interconnected to all the other dynamics is the disproportionate amount of LGBTQ+ homeless people we haveespecially Black and Brown individuals.
As a whole, we have come a long way. But there's still this distance, especially in communities of color. I want the safety of Black trans women to be recognized and supported in a real way. But there is a societal approach, when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community, that I think is antiquated. When I was growing up in the '80s, you could only talk about HIV/AIDS.
WCT: On your [campaign] website, you said that you would use the CPD's "existing resources to improve the solve rate of murders of trans individuals in Chicago." How exactly will you do that, though?
Johnson: So there's one dynamic I want to make sure I lay out: My platform is not about continually investing in failed strategies. And when I talk about protection and prevention, that's the heart and soul of my administration.
Don't get me wrong: We have to solve crime within Black communities, period. The clearance rate is abysmaland it's even worse when it comes to Black trans women. When I talk about protection and prevention, having an office dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community is tantamount to protecting and preventing [violence]. Now you have an office that makes sure we secure the resources and expand what we have under the current administration.
It's a remarkable testament to Chicago that we elected a Black woman who's a member of the LGBTQ+ community as mayor. What I don't want is this continuation of being good on some issues and bad on others. There's such an emphasis on policing and incarceration; these policies have not brought about the type of safety our communities deserve.
My focus is going to be in investments. [We need to] invest in stabilized housing, public transportation, the education system and LGBTQ+ services. I'm so focused on the intersectionality of all this becauseas a public-school teacher and as a child brought up in a home where parents made sure people are seen and valuedthe more we isolate and segment our approach to our work, the less likely we are to make sure it's inclusive and holistic.
The way you keep people safe is by providing real economic securityand economic security comes from housing, jobs, transportation and access to healthcare.
WCT: If you could ask your opponent one question and he had to answer truthfully, what would that question be?
Johnson: Does he really believe in teaching the full history of all of our experiences in America?
What concerns me about my opponent is that anyone who would be reticent to having Black history taught in schools… There are so many other dynamics that are created as a result of blocking that history. Sometimes in the Black community, we limit our discussions to [LGBTQ+ icons such as] Bayard Rustin and James Baldwin.
People talk about the budget for Black Lives [Coalition]. This is the problem when people don't read or study history. The Freedom Budget for All [Americans] was also a Black idea that led to the Great Society. [Note: Leaders such as Rustin, Martin Luther King Jr., economic advisors and others began working on this budget in the mid-1960s.] This led to liberation for people.
I feel that you're finally allowing me to be a social-studies teacherand I'm so charged right now. [Laughs]
But my opponent is afraid of the history of this country. I don't know if he's as thoughtful about what [teaching a full history] would mean for the LGBTQ+ communityand what that would mean for the larger struggle for liberation.
Brandon Johnson's campaign website is BrandonForChicago.com .
Note: Windy City Times has repeatedly reached out to mayoral candidate Paul Vallas.