On June 30, the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center (IHMEC) hosted a "Reflecting on LGBTQ+ Pride in the Time of COVID-19" virtual panel.
Chicago Sun-Times and ABC-7 Chicago columnist and political analyst Laura Washington moderated the event. Panelists included Hauswirth/Co Principal and Art and Pep documentary Executive Producer Kevin Hauswirth, Equality Illinois CEO Brian C. Johnson, state Sen. Mike Simmons, and GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) Executive Director Janson Wu.
Washington called herself a "proud ally" of the LGBTQ community and said the end of Pride Month is a great time to "reflect on what it all means in this time of COVID." She asked if the panelists were experiencing a new normal after this past 15 months of the pandemic and racial awakening.
Hauswirth said that how people were living before this was "unacceptable" and that "charting out a future that is much more equitable and focuses on justice and centers all sorts of LGBTQ people" is the way forward.
Johnson said that, for him, it is a return to the roots of what the LGBTQ movement stands for which is "an intersectional community fighting for justice." He added that being able to get married was important to him but the "new normal" has to center healthcare access, criminal justice reform and economic justice.
For Simmons it is was great for him to "see a re-burnishing of activism within the queer community during Pride month" this year in multiple neighborhoods in every corner of Chicago "pushing for issues that directly impact our community but also issues that fall across the intersectional spectrum." He also emphasized the importance of passing the Equality Act in the Senate.
Wu stated there is a new awareness among cisgender, straight white people about the inequality the rest of society faces since the pandemic began. He added that, in 2015, when marriage equality was decided in the Supreme Court people asked him if their work was done at GLAD and he told them no. Wu said this question kept on cropping up until the 2016 election results and then they realized all the other levels of discrimination the LGBTQ community faces.
Washington asked if going through the pandemic personally changed them.
Simmons said it was "sobering" for him and that due to his privilege he was able to ask himself what his life was all about and that is what prompted him to run for office. He wanted to make things better for others legislatively and be bold in his statements and actions.
"It has given me a greater softness and greater desire to solve the issues around making work tolerable for families," said Johnson.
Johnson added that every grey hair he got this past year was due to him and his husband having to take care of their now three year old daughter while he tried to work remotely.
Wu echoed Johnson's statements and said his daughter is two and a half years old. He added that in the future he wanted his daughter to be proud of what he did during the pandemic to make people's lives better.
Hauswirth talked about his clients and parents now using words that he and other progressives have known for years like equity, performative and privileged and wondering where they have learned these things. He said that for him doing the work requires a lot of patience since new people have come into this social justice space. Hauswirth hopes these new people "stick around."
Other topics included what they are most concerned about with Simmons pointing to those who do not have access to privilege and power and overall complacency among some progressives who do not face barriers in their daily lives. Hauswirth asked why LGBTQ marketing is consigned to Pride month and then corporations do nothing the rest of the year for the queer community.
Johnson said he is worried about the cyclical nature of protests against injustice and people saying enough has been done around, for example, criminal justice reform. Wu's fears are centered on how all of the social justice issues progressive care about, including voting rights, is contingent on "a functioning, pluralistic representative democracy" and that is not the case right now due to the Supreme Court.
During the Q&A session, Johnson spoke about the new LGBTQ-inclusive education law in Illinois and the free resources found on The Legacy Project education portal. Wu mentioned another LGBTQ education resource History UnErased.
As for what is next, Hauswirth said finishing the Art and Pep documentary; Johnson mentioned promoting his book, Our Fair Share: How One Small Change Can Create a More Equitable American Economy, out Sept. 28.
Wu spoke about focusing on the lawsuit GLAD and the National Center for Lesbian Rights recently filed challenging the anti-trans business bathroom law in Tennessee. Simmons said over the next months he will be holding People's Legislative Councils in his district to get input from specific marginalized communities.