With the next Chicago mayoral election up for grabs (for the first time in more than 20 years), LGBT organizations and community leaders held a forum entitled "The LGBT Community and the Next Mayor of Chicago" at the Center on Halsted Nov. 29.
The evening began with 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney giving an overview of the committee's goals. Tunney mentioned that about 20 members of the city council will change hands "so we have work to do."
Then, the moderator, AIDS Foundation of Chicago's David Munar, laid out the ground rules for the discussion. He said that these forums will be a way to keep "LGBT issues high on the radar" of the mayoral candidates. He emphasized that the discussion would not include any back-and-forth conversations, but would illuminate the issues that were not included on the briefing materials that attendees received as they arrived.
The first person to speak was Laurie Dittman, who talked about City of Chicago employee benefits. Dittman made note of the achievements the city has made with regard to its personnel rules. The city has replaced the term "sexual preference" with "sexual orientation"; added the term "gender identity"; and expanded the definition of "immediate family member" to include a domestic partner's mom, dad, son or daughter. She then emphasized that, despite the city being a leader in providing domestic-partner benefits, there need to be changes in state law regarding pension-fund benefits to include domestic partnerships or civil unions.
Then, Edwin Corbin-Gutierrez spoke about immigration issues as they relate to the LGBT community. Gutierrez highlighted the difficulties same-sex couples face since they cannot sponsor each other to come live in the United States, like opposite-sex couples can. He mentioned the work that DREAM Act proponents are doing to help LGBT youth affected by these policies, along with the plight of LGBT refugees. Lastly, he touched on the inconsistencies regarding immigration enforcement.
LGBT youth homelessness issues were the foci of Kelly Cassidy talk. She said the homeless need access to services, including the need for more shelter space. Since there is a higher percentage of homeless LGBT youth in Chicago (about 2,000 to 3,000 people) than among non-LGBT youth, Cassidy said the city has to pick up the slack when other service providers reject LGBT homeless youth because of their lack of education and training or their discrimination.
Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner Debra Shore discussed the need for significant numbers of mayoral appointments to be LGBT leaders so they can set policy direction and provide visibility for the community. Shore said that this is a project similar to the one that was created when President Obama took office where they identified, recruited and vetted qualified people from the LGBT community to potentially work in his administration. According to Shore, they would be doing the same thing in Chicago with this project so the next mayor will have a briefing book of potential appointments from which to choose.
Bennett Lawson highlighted public safety. One of the things he said was crucial was the need to have an anti-bullying program with the police and Chicago Public Schools so young people will feel safe. Lawson also talked about the need to have an LGBT liaison in all districts and not just the 23rd District, as well as the need to recruit more LGBT police officers.
Tunney ended the presentation part of the evening talking about LGBT senior issues. He remarked that they are working on a proposal to convert the old 23rd District Police Station into a senior center, which would be a natural extension to the Center on Halsted, located just down the street. He also expressed his hopes that the next mayor will approve this measure so LGBT seniors can get more services in the city. The other topics that were included on the briefing materials included education, transgender rights and HIV/AIDS funding; however, the people in charge of those areas were unable to attend the forum.
When the committee members were finished reporting out the open discussion began. The discussion titles were: What's missing? What actions should the new mayor take? How to enable the community? Some of the issues attendees had added to what's missing question category included having HIV/AIDS and sex education curriculum in CPS schools; mandatory updated LGBT sensitivity training for city and contract workers; and training for aging service providers and access for transgendered people to housing/shelter.
As far as what actions the new mayor can take, attendees mentioned the keeping the LGBT advisory committee; committing to partner benefits for city workers and city contractors; keeping the LGBT liaison and Hall of Fame; and having a mayor who lobbies for marriage equality and marches in the Pride Parade each year. People also suggested that a background fact sheet should be created to highlight the candidates' history on LGBT issues and that pro-LGBT mayoral candidates speak out against the anti-gay stances of other candidates.
Munar said that in order to get the entire Chicago LGBT community involved, the committee will hold forums on the West and South sides. Following the forums, the committee will then amass the information to create a questionnaire they will issue to the mayoral candidates in mid-December so they could get the responses back from the candidates by mid-January. They also plan on holding a candidates' forum in early 2011 that will focus on LGBT issues.
For more information on this event, visit www.eqil.org/nextmayor.html.