Continuing their "Four Color Process" series that last year featured an open discussion with ESPN sports writer and Editor Christina Kahrl, Egalite Chicago held an event Oct. 30 in downtown Chicago Leo Burnett Building. Entitled "Momentum in Motion" the informal discussion was centered upon what is next post-marriage equality in the landscape of LGBTQ rights and advocacy.
The evening was co-sponsored by the GLAAD Chicago leadership Council and Equality Illinois. Moderated by J.P. Anderson, editor-in-chief of Michigan Avenue Magazine, the panelists were Publisher and Executive Editor of the Windy City Media Group/Windy City Times Tracy Baim, Regional Director Midwest Region of Lambda Legal Jim Bennett, Chief Executive Officer of Equality Illinois Bernard Cherkasov, and Chicago House Chief Executive Officer Rev. Stan J. Sloan.
Earlier that same day, Apple CEO Tim Cook came out as a gay man in a Bloomsburg Businessweek column. Also reported that day was news from Indianapolis of the murder of a transgender woman of color, Tajshon Sherman. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs ( NCAVP ), Sherman is the ninth transgender woman of color to be murdered in the U.S. in 2014.
Egalite ( French for equality ) is the LGBTQ employee resource group for the Publicis Groupe advertising network of agencies including Leo Burnett, Digitas, Razorfish and a dozen others. They state: "We believe that diversityof orientations, of identities, and of backgroundsforms the foundation for a dynamic, rewarding and innovative organization, therefore Egalite works to elevate, support, and empower LGBTQIA employees and perspectives."
Most recently, Team Egalite brought in close to $30,000 as a top fundraiser for the 2014 AIDS Run & Walk Chicago.
The program was introduced by Egalite board members Karl Wenzel and Alden Golab. By way of framing the discussion, Wenzel noted the state of LGBTQ equality in 1996. He recalled that Don't Ask, Don't Tell ( DADT ) had been in place for two years, the Defense of Marriage Act ( DOMA ) had been enacted, same-sex relationships had yet to be recognized by any statewith some still having laws on the books criminalizing consensual gay sexas well as a federal law still in place barring entry into the U.S. based upon a person's HIV status.
"The activism and advocacy of many in the LGBT community helped make tremendous progress on all of those fronts in just the last 18 years," Wenzel noted. "The momentum during that period was amazing. But the work is not done and that's why we're here tonight."
Anderson remembered April 30, 1997 when pop culture icon Ellen DeGeneres came out on her nationally televised show. "I was living in Dallas [as] an out gay man and, at the time, the LGBTQ community was practically invisible in the mainstream," he said. "But I remember the sense of palpable excitement at the idea that Ellen was going to come out. Just to be visible and to be seen by the United States on mainstream television was incredible."
He surveyed each of the panelists on the most pressing issue the LGBTQ community is facing over the next five to 10 years.
"Marriage equality is not civil equality and civil equality is not life equality," Sloan replied. "If you're LGBTQ in America, you're almost twice as likely to live in poverty as if you're mainstream America and up to 30% of us need food assistance on a monthly basis."
Sloan said that his organization was focused on ending poverty and keeping the LGBTQ community united in that cause. "Our goal with marriage equality has been to assimilate. Now that we are at that cusp, the question is should we stay together as a community, stay proud and do a better job of taking care of one another."
Cherkasov asserted that full equal treatment needed to be sought on each socio-economic level of society. "Marriage equality was a very high-profile, very expensive battle but it was just building the foundation for all the work that remains for us to do," he said, adding that LGBTQ students should be able to go to school to study rather than to be bullied and that LGBTQ employees should not suffer discrimination at work.
He stated that part of the work of Equality Illinois is targeted at lawmakers whether fighting against those attempting to repeal or dilute marriage equality in Illinois or ensuring that they defend the LGBTQ community through anti-bullying legislation or workplace, housing and public accommodation protections. "We're not giving up on the idea that lawmakers can serve to fix our society and provide remedies," he said.
Cherkasov added that the organization is also evaluating the practices of employers through a corporate responsibility project as well as partnering with a network of 278 houses of worship in creating safe spaces for LGBTQ individuals.
"Today we celebrate that Tim Cook came out but how many people know that yet another transgender woman of color was killed, this time in Indianapolis?" Baim wondered. "We need to realize that our most vulnerable are still vulnerable." She reasserted her commitment to the issue of LGBTQ youth homelessness. "As a community, we can make a difference working on this issue."
Baim noted a level of frustration with a lack of movement on many of the issues Windy City Times repeatedly headlines. "We have covered homeless youth in Chicago for 30 years and nothing happened in the community," she said. "We need to come together in a coalition way. Some 95% of the LGBTQ community doesn't give to LGBTQ causes. With homeless youth work, there's an opportunity for people to actually feel like they can affect some change. You can help with laundry, on storage, feeding and clothing and all these other ways where we move from talking about being frustrated [with] kids hanging out on the streets when they have nowhere else to go and work on giving them skills and opportunities to advance themselves."
Because Lambda Legal's work is accomplished mainly in the courtroom, Bennett said that the organization was still trying to "negotiate the surrender of the final 18 states on marriage." He noted that, even though marriage equality was passed in Illinois, there is still a struggle for implementation such as in Cook County, which refuses to back date out-of-state civil unions when upgrading them to marriage. He also highlighted the recent backlash related to "religious freedom". "We obviously don't believe that it gives you the right to discriminate against other people," he said.
Bennett echoed Sloan on the need for the LGBTQ community to unite again after focusing on marriage equality. "The issues of full equality, liberty, dignity, fairness, justice; those are things that our whole community can get behind," he said. "Our responsibility is to move people from the excitement of everyone being engaged with one singular focus, to recognizing that our community [can] broaden its scope in how we look out for ourselves and how we reach out to others."
"Now we have hundreds of thousands of people across the country who are changing [the] world." Baim added. "We are not a single-point-failure movement. They cannot take one of us out and take us all out. Like family, we come together when we need each other."
For more information, please contact EgaliteChicago@PublicisGroupe.com .
For a full report on the first LGBTQ summit on homeless youth please visit: www.windycitymediagroup.com/pdf/YOUTHSUMMITREPORTSMALL.pdf .
The video playlist below contains multiple videos. Choose Playlist in the top left hand corner to watch videos out of order, if preferred.