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How safe are we really? A look into Illinois' LGBTQ+ protections as hate rises nationwide
by Lu Calzada
2024-04-02

This article shared 14694 times since Tue Apr 2, 2024
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Illinois has long been known to have some of the strongest LGBTQ+ legal protections in the country. Its first anti-discrimination laws go back several decades, and the state boasts a wide variety of protections of LGBTQ+ folks across public and private spheres.

In Jan. 2023, these laws expanded to include shield laws protecting patients, providers and anyone else helping those who travel from out of state to access abortion or gender-affirming care. These protections allow folks to avoid any potential legal consequences from their home states if they ban such practices.

However, Illinois' own protections are not bulletproof. With a record number of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced last year according to the ACLU and LGBTQ hate sentiments rising nationwide, many folks fear the potential for the wave to sweep into the national legislature in the 2024 election.

How Are We Doing?

Brian C. Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois, said Illinois has very strong protections across the board, including areas such as education, access to public spaces and more.

"Without a doubt, Illinois is one of the most queer-affirming states in the country," he said. "We have had non-discrimination protections that protect on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity for almost 20 years … and [Equality Illinois is] at the cutting edge of what it means to push to be an even more queer-affirming state."

However, Johnson is worried about the potential for a Supreme Court to strip away marriage equality or other protections currently afforded to queer people. Although these exist in Illinois at the state level, it would complicate matters when leaving the state.

"What happens if you are a queer doctor who lives in Hyde Park but works in Gary, Indiana? You're not protected." he said. "What happens if you're a queer parent who lives in Alton whose co-parent lives in St. Louis? What happens when they can exert rights against you as a queer person? Those are things that I worry about."

Andy Thayer, an LGBTQ+-rights and anti-war activist and founder of the Gay Liberation Network, warned of the importance of staying vigilant about national laws, despite Illinois' protections.

"This whole notion that we are a 'safe state' which has been promoted by [Governor JB] Pritzker to, frankly, brag about some good accomplishments, it's also a very double-edged sword," he said. "It has bred complacency—the best laws in the world will not protect you from a bad Supreme Court decision."

One incident Thayer mentioned was involving Illinois SB1909, which would have created the Deceptive Practices of Limited Services Pregnancy Centers Act and penalize anti-abortion organizations deceiving women seeking information about their options. After Pritzker signed SB 1909 into law, it was blocked by U.S. District Judge Iain Johnston for allegedly violating free speech.

As national anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment has been on the rise the last few years, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy said she's noticed an increase in transphobic and homophobic rhetoric. Recently, she dealt with a barrage of hate on her own social media, and said she feels these sentiments are seen as an "acceptable form of hatred."

"We see [anti-LGBTQ+ bills] get introduced here—they just never see the light of day," she said. "But they will have a very warm welcome in a Republican-controlled House, Senate and White House."

Johnson is also worried Republicans could take both houses of Congress and the White House and enact devastating legislation. If they were to create laws banning federal funding for organizations that educate or discuss LGBTQ+ issues, those would directly affect life in Illinois.

Bolstering State Protections

However, there's a number of bills and projects in the works to continue to bolster the existing LGBTQ+ protections in Illinois. With people currently fleeing their home states to Illinois, Cassidy said we should "mindfully embrace that" here in the state.

She recently introduced a bill to provide a tax credit to people who are fleeing states with regressive laws which she worked on with folks from Equality Florida. Through her time working in legislature, she's gotten to meet multiple people who have had to suddenly flee their homes with little preparation if any at all.

"The ability to be able to provide somebody that warm handoff is something that's important to me," she said. "We spent at least six months planning our move [from Florida] … the idea that you might have to leave before your prescription runs out, or your kid's prescription runs out, is just mind-boggling to me."

State Sen. Mike Simmons, the first openly gay Illinois state senator, has been working to outlaw book and curriculum bans involving LGBTQ+ communities through introducing his Let America Read Again bill. Last year, he helped pass a bill withholding state funds from libraries that ban books.

Simmons has also been working to "aggressively amp up" protections and resources for LGBTQ+ folks' mental health within his northern Chicago district. On a bill he passed last year, it states schools must provide instruction on how to access these services for all youth, which he said especially benefits LGBTQ youth. It's important for him to help fill the gaps in this type of healthcare and assist in making sure people have access to thorough, knowledgeable and culturally-competent care, he said.

"I want the next generation to be able to walk a more dignified path than others had to," he said.

In the face of rising hate nationwide and the potential for federal attacks, Simmons passed a bill in 2023 to protect same-sex marriages in Illinois by repealing the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution Act. The act formerly required out-of-state couples to obtain a signature from an official in their previous state before receiving a marriage license in Illinois.

"It was a proactive step in an overall hostile context," he said. "We have to be prepared and poised for retractive Supreme Court decisions and federal rulings that could take away rights that we've enjoyed for a short time."

Illinois' Future

Thayer feels Illinois and its residents have fallen into complacency when it comes to defending and pushing for LGBTQ+ rights, and he warned that people cannot rely on politicians to defend rights—that falls on the citizens.

He maintained that Democrats, despite recently having a majority in Congress and presidency, had been letting Roe v. Wade protections slide away without strong united work to maintain national abortion rights.

Thayer advised against honing in too much in on anti-LGBTQ+ bill after anti-LGBTQ+ bill in state after state. Activists should instead focus on the Supreme Court itself and even call into question its legitimacy, he said.

"I think it's actually a bit of a trap to focus too much on Illinois legislation," Thayer added. "The reality is most of these battles are now national. We can't be playing Whac-A-Mole against bigoted legislatures out of Montana or whatever."

Johnson also said people that when people get complacent, real harm can take hold. For ordinary people wanting to make a difference, he recommended donating or volunteering time to a queer organization and "do a little bit where you are where you can." That way, people take action themselves, instead of simply hoping others will continue to fight for queer rights.

Some of the topics Johnson said he focuses on improving are the criminalization of queer people and making sure they are treated fairly within the legal system, as well as economic justice and equality for queer people. He's also concerned with access to healthcare that affirms the experiences of all people and allows everyone to feel safe. Johnson said he also supports the full decriminalization of adult consensual sex work in order to protect workers from violence, which can disproportionately affect Black and brown trans people.

With so much up in the air for the future of national rights, Johnson feels hopeful about Illinois' future. He also cited the number of queer people both on the Chicago city council and in the Illinois state legislature.

"I am optimistic not because it is guaranteed, but because we have a community of queer people, LGBTQ+ leaders and allies that are willing to continuously fight for it," he said. "I am optimistic because we as a community are working so hard to continue to demand our full rights and build our power."


This article shared 14694 times since Tue Apr 2, 2024
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