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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-12-13



ELECTIONS 2024 Illinois' first openly gay congressman isn't done yet: A conversation with Eric Sorensen
by Lu Calzada

This article shared 10978 times since Fri Feb 23, 2024
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A Rockford-born meteorologist, U.S. Rep. Eric Sorenson didn't plan on being a politician. But after seeing how his work in broadcasting impacted his viewers in both the Rockford and the Quad Cities areas, he wanted to take his service to northwest Illinois to the next level.

Sorensen came out while attending Northern Illinois University and enjoyed being out while in his broadcast jobs in Illinois, even taking an active role in the Quad Cities' LGBTQ community. His journey being out at work, however, was not always bright—he was fired from his first job in south Texas for being gay.

Sorenson, a Moline resident with his partner Shawn and two dogs, now represents Illinois District 17 and has held his position since 2023. He is the state's first openly gay congressman.

Windy City Times: How did you decide to go from your meteorologist role to running for Congress?

Eric Sorensen: I spent 22 years as a meteorologist and I always felt like I never worked for the TV station—I worked for the people who needed me. In 2021, we're going through a pandemic, we don't have enough people speaking truth to science, [and] my congresswoman was retiring. I was one of the few [meteorologists] in the country that was talking about climate on a regular basis, and how it was affecting my community. I was seeing all this hurtful and horrible LGBTQ+ legislation, and it hit me. My hometown of Rockford doesn't need another politician, [they] need someone to help guide them to make good decisions.

WCT: Being in your role as the first gay congressman from Illinois, how has your identity affected the things that are important to you in Congress?

ES: We have to choose to either sit at the table or be on the menu, and I choose to sit at the table. I want to make it a little bit uncomfortable to [these Republicans] because of who I am. We need to make sure that we're doing everything, so that there's representation here. That's why I'm so stoked for Sarah McBride running for Congress in Delaware … I think about what will happen when she's sitting at the table.

I'm really in a 50/50 seat that could go either way [in the upcoming election], and I'm cognizant that ,being a freshman, especially in the minority here in Congress, it's really hard to get the legislation through that we need. I want to see the Equality Act passed and I'm also a supporter of the Pride in Mental Health Act. I think back to, "How did I need help as a kid?" We need to make sure that the mental health crisis among LGBTQ youth is taken care of, and here in Congress I have the ability to support that.

WCT: Coming from a state like Illinois where there are strong legal protections for LGBTQ people, how do you feel in D.C. surrounded by different types of Congresspeople from all over?

ES: I think it shows what we need to work for, [and] why we need to fight. I get emotional sometimes when the Speaker of the House will put up some anti-trans legislation on the floor of the House of Representatives, and the other side will cheer when they pass some hateful legislation. Sometimes I walk out and walk down the 50 steps of the Capitol and I wonder what would happen if we were protesting every day. Where are the rainbow flags? Where's the trans flag? I feel a little bit alone when I'm walking down those steps after that happens, and I know when I talk to the other LGBTQ members of Congress that they feel the same way.

The good news is the Equality Caucus is the largest caucus in Congress, so that means there is an incredible amount of support. I'm cognizant that if we don't fight for our rights, there's a really significant risk they'll go away—and how hard will it be to fight to get them back. I think it's a much easier fight to stand up today and keep them.

WCT: Some of your main focuses are sustainable jobs and agriculture, and you're on different committees such as Agriculture and Science, Space, and Technology. Was that inspired by your meteorological background?

ES: I applied to two committees. One that I could bring my talents [to] as somebody who studied weather and communicated climate [to viewers], and [also] believes in resiliency and sustainability. And also, I have the honor of being the congressman for the hometown of John Deere. There's a storied history of agriculture [in my district] and at the heart of it, our farmers want to do what's right. They just need some guidance, and that guidance needs to be from sound science. Agriculture is most important to the district and science is where I can bring my background.

WCT: What has your experience been like in Congress trying to get things passed, or dealing with challenges while fighting to tell the truth about science and climate, especially in a government that often does not want to listen?

ES: I don't necessarily use the word "climate" very often. But, we have to understand that there's more frequent extreme weather. How are we adapting to the extreme weather, whether it's bigger hurricanes happening [more quickly], heavier rain, bigger storms, more tornadoes and increasing temperature in the Arctic and Antarctic?

My district borders the Mississippi River. We have floods; we're going to need better protection against those floods, [which] helps out our farmers. In those ways, I can get someone like Congresswoman Mary Miller, who's on the very far right fringes, and we can come together and say, "Hey, we're both going to support this resiliency bill." I didn't have to talk to her about climate. I just had to talk to her about helping our farmers. Those are the ways we're really making a difference.

Eventually, we're going to need to make sure we have the technology available for our electric grid. As renewable [energy is] locked into the system … right now the system doesn't allow us to utilize all of the power efficiently, so we're going to have to fix that and that's Congress' job.

WCT: You're up for reelection in the coming year, what are the future things on your radar? What are the major issues you're focusing on for your platform for reelection?

ES: I think a lot back to my seventh grade math teacher. I said, "Well aren't you going to give me credit [for the correct answer]?" She said, "No .. you didn't show me your work." I think about that a lot. I don't want the people in my district or my state to think I'm deserving of their vote "just because," I want them to know I'm deserving of their vote because I'm doing the work. There's too many people in Washington today that are either here for the wrong reasons or they're just here for themselves.

This article shared 10978 times since Fri Feb 23, 2024
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