Gov. Pat Quinn, 61, took office amidst a storm of controversy last year when he replaced Rod Blagojevich. He talked with Windy City Times about everything from civil unions to gender-reassignment surgery.
Windy City Times: Earlier this year you restored the state's HIV/AIDS funding to almost 100 percent of previous levels. In September you created an advisory council targeting AIDS prevention messages to youth. Why, with the economy in the shape it's in, are you choosing to make this a priority?
Pat Quinn: It's very important to me, part of my mission, that we help those afflicted with HIV and AIDS. There are a number of things the state can do to help. I walked across the State of Illinois is 2001 with my doctor, Quentin Young. We walked from the Mississippi River to Chicago and I met people afflicted with HIV and AIDS along the way. That's one area of the budget that we'll always protect. That's a lot of great people and we want to help maintain their health.
WCT: Dan Hynes was in favor of civil unions for same-sex couples but recently has come out in support of gay marriage. Why are you in favor of civil unions over marriage?
PQ: That's been my position. I took that position when I ran for lieutenant governor. That's the bill that can pass today and that's the one we should focus on. I go out to get things passed. Right now the civil unions bill can pass. I think it will pass now, a year from now, maybe sooner. I do believe that it will come to my desk within the coming year. I think sometimes in politics we focus on what's achievable, what can be done.
WCT: If the tides change and you think that a same-sex marriage bill could pass, would you consider signing a marriage bill in the future?
PQ: If the General Assembly passes a bill I have a legal obligation to pass or not sign it. At this point in time the bill that has very close to the majority of support is the civil-union bill. That's a short period of time. And I'm poised to sign it. That's the one that's got the support of the majority of the House and the majority of the Senate to it. Gay people in the community know I was an early supporter of the Human Rights Act. I've stood up when I was state treasurer. I consider this part of my long-time mission.
One thing we need to do is to celebrate gay history in Chicago and in our country. Learning how they've made our state better. Everybody's in, nobody's left out. You know a year ago the governor [ Rod Blagojevich ] was arrested. I haven't had a moment's rest. My job is to bring Illinois together. We had a very divided state, a lot of anger and animosity and everywhere I go as governor I want to include people. That's why I went to Howard Brown. I want to be a uniter as governor.
WCT: For somebody who is in transition between genders there is no consistent way for that person to go and change their birth certificate to match their new gender orientation. The State Department has its own standards for issuing passports. The DMV has its own standards for driver's licenses. The Secretary of State's Office has its own standard. Some places require medical notes, others require reassignment surgery. What can the state do to reduce these burdens on transgender people?
PQ: Well I'd have to think about that. I just wrote a note to myself about that. It sounds like there's a lot of different layers of government. I will inquire exactly how our state operates and do my best to ensure that it's a seamless operation. I want to be a humble governor who is proud of our people. I think the governor needs to show tolerance and concern and that's where I'm coming from.
WCT: You've got a lot on your plate with the state budget the way it is and cleaning up after Rod Blagojevich. What can gays and lesbians reasonably expect from you if you're elected to a new term?
PQ: Number 1: We want to have lots of people from the gay and lesbian communities participate on state boards and commissions. We have three directors of major state departments who happen to be gay and I look forward to more. I think we need to make sure no one is discriminated against. We want to make sure everybody feels like they are a part of the Land of Lincoln, that they're treated fairly and that they're honored for their work. We celebrate heroic men and women in Illinois and there are plenty of courageous men and women in the gay community.
See quinnforillinois.com .
To find out Pat Quinn's thoughts about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," visit www.WindyCityMediaGroup.com .