After a week of national LGBT victories and the introduction of a marriage equality bill in Illinois, Equality Illinois celebrated its 21st year at its "Justice for All" Gala Feb. 12.
More than a 1,300 people attended the sold-out event at the Hilton Chicago hotel, which drew in political and community leaders en masse.
Among them was Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Barack Obama, who delivered the night's keynote address.
While the room buzzed with talk of marriage equality, Jarrett steered clear of the topic of same-sex marriage, which Obama has yet to say he supports. Instead, Jarrett focused on what the president has done to push forward LGBT rights.
"When it comes to the fight for equality … our union is more perfect than it was three years ago," Jarrett said.
Jarrett listed hospital visitation rights for LGBTs, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the end of the HIV travel ban, the introduction of the National AIDS Strategy and the mandate to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act among Obama's greatest victories for LGBT equality.
"We love this country, and we have changed it," Jarrett said. "We also know that we changing laws is not enough. We must change our culture."
Jarrett said that the president would work towards and inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act. She also warned of efforts to undo strides made by LGBT people.
"Let's promise tonight that we're going to fight harder than ever," Jarrett said. "They will never outwork us, I promise you."
More locally, Illinois LGBT rights activists celebrated the start of civil unions in June 2011 and looked toward the possibility of marriage ahead.
"In following civil unions in the last year, we know that civil unions are not the same as marriage," said Equality Illinois Board President Dalila Fridi.
Equality Illinois listed its achievements this year as working with businesses on LGBT workplace protections, work on its faith project, connecting political leaders and advocating for students, among others.
The organization honored the law firm McDermott Will & Emery LLP with its 2012 Business Leadership Award. This year's Freedom Award was given to the late State Rep. Mark Beaubien, whose wife Dee Beaubien accepted the honor on his behalf.
Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov called this year's gala "the most successful gala in recent history" for the organization.
According to Cherkasov, the night drew in a record number of political leaders. Cherkasov estimated that 100 elected officials turned out for the fundraiser.
Among them were Congressman Mike Quigley, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, Secretary of State Jesse White, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Debra Shore, former judge Tom Chiola ( the first openly gay person elected to office in Illinois ) , and Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Human Relations Mona Noriega. State Reps. Greg Harris, Kelly Cassidy, Deb Mell, Ann Williams and Sara Feigenholtz also attended.
Openly gay Aldermen Tom Tunney and James Cappleman were present, along with Springfield's openly gay alderman, Cory Jobe. Michael McRaith, who heads the Federal Insurance Office, was also at the event. There were also dozens of candidates for office in the March Illinois primary.