Local attorney Ellis Levin has been a vocal advocate for LGBT rights since the mid-1970s. During his almost two decades ( 1977-1995 ) in the Illinois House of Representatives, the straight ally earned a reputation as an outspoken liberal who fought on behalf of women's rights, HIV/AIDS protections and LGBT equality.
Levin was one of only 17 ( of 177 ) legislators to vote for the state's first anti-discrimination law, and he was welcomed to the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame's inaugural class as a "Friend of the Community."
This month, Levin returns to the public sector as an 8th Judicial Subcircuit nominee in the March 20 Democratic primary. The veteran real estate attorney recently sat down with Windy City Times to talk history, activism and his impending election.
NOTE: View downloadable election guide charts at the following link. This election chart was updated online on Tuesday March 13 with corrections and updates. www.windycitymediagroup.com/pdf/WCT_2012_primarychartsforweb.pdf .
Windy City Times: I hear that you were one of the first elected officials to march in Chicago's Pride Parade. Is that right?
Ellis Levin: I was the very first, yes. That was in 1978. At that particular point, my daughter was two, and we were right behind a float with Big Bird. She loved it.
WCT: How did you first get involved with the LGBT community?
Ellis Levin: I've always felt strongly about human rights issues, both in my personal and professional careers. I wanted to protect people, particularly the gay and lesbian community, women and children, and religious minorities.
I'd lived on the North Side since I got out of college, either in Lakeview or Edgewater. The gay and lesbian communities have always been my neighbors. When I was in the legislature, there was a group of [ gay ] guys who lived next door. They'd take care of my wife if she had any problems while I was in Springfield. And across the street there was a lesbian couple. One of them was actually the broker who sold me my house. These were real people. My downstate colleagues were reacting to stereotypes. They didn't know even that they had gays and lesbians in their districts.
WCT: What was the environment like in Springfield?
Ellis Levin: It was very hostile. There was name-calling. There were demeaning comments about the gay and lesbian community and other minorities. I don't want to use any of the expressions. ... But members of the legislature are no different than anyone else. You've got a segment that's biased. Downstate Illinois is close to a lot of the Southern states, so you had a lot of bias.
When I was in the legislature, I was considered quite liberal because of the positions I took and the legislation I was able to pass. It's kind of fun to see that 20 years later, it's not so radical. It's accepted. We're still not there, but [ it's nice ] to see that things have really changed.
WCT: It's been a while since you were last in the spotlight. What motivated you to run for judge?
Ellis Levin: There was an opening, and it felt right. Half of my old legislative district in the 8th Subcircuit. I'm surprised a lot of people still remember me. It's kind of an unusual thing for a former legislator to be running for judge. I'm running on my record, what I stood for, and what I was able to accomplish.
You can't make commitments as a judge. It's unethical. You can't say, "I'm going to rule this particular way." But what I've been able to accomplish in my public life gives people an idea of where I'm coming from, what my priorities are, and what values I will follow as a judge.
WCT: Do you think your progressive record will hurt you at all?
Ellis Levin: No. I have always believed in listening to everybody. A judge needs two things: He needs to know the law and be willing to listen. That's something I did all the time in the legislature. It's why I was effective. I'd sit down with anybody. One of the things that bothers me now is you've got this polarization in Springfield, in Washington, all over. People don't talk to each other.
I talk to everybody. "Liberal Ellis Levin" had a gun bill that was actually supported by the National Rifle Association. I talked to [ members of the NRA ] and found that 1 percent of the time we were in agreement. That particular bill dealt with so-called cop killer bullets, these Teflon-coated bullets that went straight through the vests and killed people. [ The NRA ] was against that.
WCT: After you launched your campaign, Steven Dahlman wrote an inflammatory article about you on his Loop North News website. He said you were a "bully" when you acted as attorney for the Marina Towers Condominium Association.
Ellis Levin: That particular website is run by dissidents at Marina City. I represented Marina for many years; it's one of the largest condominiums in the state of Illinois. The condo association there has different factions: There are those who are on the board, and there are those who don't like the board.
The gentleman who runs this website does not like the board. He and several dissidents attempted several years ago to claim his website [ where he ran the article ] was the official website for the condominium association, and I wouldn't let them do it. They didn't like what I did.
I haven't been the attorney at Marina for the last 2.5 years, and I wonder why this guy still hasn't gotten a life. One of the major roles an attorney has for a condominium association is to enforce the rules. If an owner doesn't pay their assessments or doesn't follow rules, it's on you. It's part of the job description, unfortunately.
To learn more about Levin, visit www.ellislevinlaw.org .