In the early moments of the Equality Illinois' 2017 gala, held Feb. 4 at the Chicago Hilton and Towers, Mayor Rahm Emanuel defended his promise that Chicago would remain a sanctuary city for immigrants and refugees, and described how the values behind that promise also informed the struggles for LGBT rights.
Chicagoans, Emanuel said, would never "back down from the values of tolerance, the value of equality and the value of inclusion."
More than 1,200 people attended the event, which, though festive, nevertheless addressed the uncertain political times ahead. Equality Illinois CEO Brian Johnson said a key part of the organization's mission in the years ahead would be providing assistance to organizations and allies fighting for rights at the national level.
"The past two weeks have been such a tumult in our country and state," Johnson said. "We live in scary times."
But Johnson also described an even larger role for Equality Illinois, ensuring the rights of LGBT Illinoisans. He emphasized that much of that workfocusing on school issues, healthcare and criminal justicehas to take place outside the Chicago city limits, where many LGBTs do not have protections and resources that are as robust.
"Our challenge is to make things equal for 13 million people in our state," said Anthony Galloway, Equality Illinois director of education and outreach, who, along with former Board Chair Dalila Fridi, described a large-scale phone-banking effort the organization will be launching soon.
Among the evening's honorees was Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, which won the Business Leadership Award; the award was presented by Johnson and state Sen. Heather Steans. Robert Garofolo accepted, along with other Lurie staff, including Courtney Finlayson, Zach Stafford, Jennifer Leininger, Amanda Schall and Lisa Kuhns.
Terry Cosgrove was given the Freedom Award for both his LGBT-rights endeavors and his work as CEO of the Personal PAC pro-choice organization. Johnson was joined by consultant Dee Beaubien to present Cosgrove's award.
The night's other Freedom Award recognized the work of Chicago Human Rights Commission Commissioner Mona Noriega, which Johnson presented along with Windy City Times Publisher Tracy Baim.
Other speakers included Equality Illinois Institute Chair Anthony D'Amato and Board Member Joan Ducayet, as well as Equality Illinois Chair Grant Gochnauer and EI co-founder Art Johnston. Additional testimonies were given by individuals whose work had been positively affected by Equality Illinois. They included Dr. Carl Alaimo, an instructor with Cook County Sheriff's Training Institute; Veronica Noland, a member of the Elgin school board; and Malary Gregory, Equality Illinois' office assistant.
Among the politicians in attendance were U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth and U.S. Reps. Mike Quigley, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Cheri Bustos, Robin Kelly and Brad Schneider. Illinois legislators included state Reps. Greg Harris, Sam Yingling, Linda Chapa LaVia ( who is running for mayor of Aurora ), Carol Ammons, Kelly Cassidy, Sara Feigenholtz, Laura Fine, Lou Lang, Ann Williams, Theresa Mah and Juliana Stratton, as well as state Sens. Daniel Biss, Don Harmon, Toi Hutchinson and Cristina Castro. State Senate Pres. John Cullerton attended, as did former state Sens. Carol Ronen and Mike Noland and former state Rep. Ellis Levin.
Other Illinois officials included state Comptroller Susana Mendoza, Treasurer Mike Frerichs, and former Gov. Pat Quinn. City officials included Alds. James Cappleman and Tom Tunney; Treasurer Kurt Summers; City Clerk Anna Valencia; and Marc Buslik, commander of the Town Hall ( 19th ) Police District.
Cook County officials included County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and State's Attorney Kim Foxx. Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioners Mariyana Spyropoulos and Josina Morita also attended, as did Evanston Ald. Mark Tendam, who is also a mayoral candidate there.
Local judges included Kent Delgado, Mike McHale, Stephanie Miller, Robin Shoffner, Cecilia Horan and James Shapiro.