Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs hosted an LGBT History Month celebration Oct. 25 at the James R. Thompson Center. Frerichs initiated this annual awards celebration when he took office three years ago.
Telemundo Chicago Anchor/Reporter Jorge Enrique De Santiago served as the master of ceremonies.
American Veterans for Equal Rights Chicago Chapter members presented the colors and Danika Bonet performed the National Anthem ahead of Frerichs remarks and Sidetrack Co-owner and Equality Illinois Co-founder Art Johnston's keynote address.
"You do not have to be physically tall [like me] to stand tall for other people, especially those who have been discriminated against," said Frerichs.
Frerichs spoke about the importance of this celebration's location being on the concourse level of the building because LGBTQ people's lives and accomplishments should be honored out in the open. He explained that when he became treasurer, the department brought in an LGBT advisory committee to make the office more inclusive and productive.
Johnston explained the importance of teaching LGBT history so everyone knows the full story of human history.
"The stories of LGBTQ people, many of whom you think you may know, have had the basic facts of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity systematically removed, erased, redacted from the common historical narrative we have all grown up with," said Johnston. "We have all been denied historically significant LGBTQ role models and the price our whole society has paid is incalculable. Much of the histrionics and madness we see on the news every day about increasing restrictions on LGBTQ people is perpetrated by those whose hatred of LGBTQ people could not exist had we not been erased from the common story of humankind."
Johnston noted that LGBTQ people have never had the intergenerational passing down of history that other minorities have to act as a bulwark against the hatred they experience outside their households. He explained that this lack of knowledge causes people to bully and reject their LGBTQ family members as well as higher suicide rates among LGBTQ youth. Johnston said that, especially right now, LGBTQ people and their allies have to fight back against the onslaught of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and actions coming from all corners of the country.
Following Johnston's remarks, De Santiago presented the awards.
Among the award recipients were Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine Co-owner and Co-founder Greg O'Neill ( Outstanding Service in Business ), Youth Outlook Executive Director Nancy Mullen ( Outstanding Commitment to Community Service ), Aunt Martha's Health and Wellness Chief Professional Development and Marketing Officer and ALMA Chicago Board of Directors Vice President Kenny Martin-Ocasio ( Outstanding Commitment to Education ), Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner Debra Shore ( Outstanding Commitment as an Elected Official ), Human Rights Activist and former Illinois Department of Human Rights Director Rocco Claps ( Outstanding Service in Leadership ), Local 881 United Food and Commercial Workers ( UFCW ) Legislative and Political Director Zach Koutsky on behalf of Local 881 UFCW ( Outstanding Service in Workforce and Labor ) and Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association ( CMSA ) President Michael Erwin on behalf of the CMSA ( Outstanding Service in Sportsmanship ).
O'Neill said his award should have gone to both him and his life/business partner Ken Miller because they built the business together.
Mullen talked about the LGBTQ youth and family picnic they recently held in Naperville with 100 people in attendance as a sign of positive change happening in suburban Chicago.
Martin-Ocasio said he accepted the award on behalf of ALMA and vowed to keep working for equality.
Shore spoke about how vital it is for LGBTQ people to be at the table when policies and legislation are discussed.
Claps echoed Johnston's remarks regarding the importance of connecting back to history, especially now in this age of fake news.
Koutsky noted his lesbian mothers while Erwin spoke about the need for an organization like CMSA so LGBTQ people can play sports in a safe environment.
Three Gayco Productions improv comedy artists closed the event.