Singer Alicia Keys was among the headliners as the Chicago-based LGBTQ-rights advocacy Equality Illinois held an online edition of its annual gala the evening of February 6. Governor JB Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot were among the speakers for the event, which also marked Equality Illinois' 30th anniversary.
The gala, which is usually held in early February, usually attracts hundreds from the city's LGBTQ community and numerous allies, among them elected officials and political candidates.
Speaking from the empty ballroom of the Chicago Hilton and Towers, where the gala usually takes place, Equality Illinois CEO Brian Johnson outlined a number of initiatives the organization carried out in 2020, among them linking LGBTQ folks in need with COVID-related assistance, taking part in both get-out-the-vote and census participation drives and assisting stakeholders as a law requiring integrating LGBTQ material into school curriculums took effect.
After reflecting on his organization's three-decades, Johnson added, "I stand here firmly rooted in our history, to remind us that we will be together again."
Johnson said that a key iniative for Equality Illinois is comprehensive and accurate sexual-health education for all Illinois students, emphasizing, "We mean all youth, in every school district, in every county, in this state.
Equality Illinois awarded Broadway Youth Center (BYC) its Organization Award for the year. Various staff from BYC, which last September broke ground on its own dedicated building, spoke sent recorded messages of thanks. One such staff member emphasized that, "We weren't going to let COVID-19 steal our shine."
One of BYC's former directors, Imani Rupert-Gordon, was given Equality Illinois' Freedom Award for her time leading both BYC and Affinity Community Services. Speaking from Oakland, California, where she now works as executive director of National Center for Lesbian Rights, Rupert-Gordon mentioned taking inspiration in the a key principle espoused by Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whom Equality Illinois was posthumously honoring as well, surmising that "what matters is not just what we do, but how we do it."
Ginsburg's son Jim, who lives in Chicago, accepted Equality Illinois' Lifetime Achievement Award on his mother's behalf. He reflected on her commitment to LGBTQ equality, and noted that her "fingerprints" could be spotted even in decisions that she did not write.
"It was wonderful to see how much her life's work touched this community," said Jim. "My mother's advocacy of same-sex marriage and equal rights for LGBTQ people came directly out of her lifelong fight against sex-discrimination and prmotion of gender-equality."
Pritzker and Lightfoot both emphasized in their messages that despite making headway in recent years, the LGBTQ community must remain committed to continuing to advocate against discrimination and on behalf of equity for its especially marginalized members. Lightfoot emphasized, for example, the continuing challenges facing trans women of color as well as LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness.
"Although Illinois has made great strides...it's incumbent for all of us to keep up that fight," said Pritzker.
The Feb. 6 event was hosted by Equality Illinois Board Members Channyn Lynne Parker and Jamie Citron. Besides Keyes, Chicago Gay Men's Chorus also performed a musical number.