Speaking at a College of Lake County event promoting tolerance Feb. 19, Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor, while discussing Illinois anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT residents, intimated that he himself depended on those laws. In an interview shortly afterward, he confirmed that he is gay.
Later that week, Lawlor told Windy City Times that his being gay was one of "Lake County's worst-kept secrets," in that he's long been out to friends and family but had not discussed his sexuality in a public setting.
"In a lot of ways, I felt that what I did [Feb. 19] was not that big a deal," he explained. "After I read a lot of posts and emails that I got in response, I thought, 'Wow, this is really something.' It was just the first time I'd discussed it with a reporter in the room."
Lawlor, a Republican, has been county board chair since 2012. He represents District 18, which is composed of Vernon Hills and Indian Creek, as well as parts of Hawthorn Woods, Long Grove, Mundelein and other parts of unincorporated Lake County. His position as chairman is determined by fellow board members, not the electorate.
He said, "I never ran for county board to be 'the youngest' or 'the first gay' [officeholder]I ran to help the people that I represent, and I want to be thought of that way … I feel like I had to wait for a point in my career where I had some achievements under my belt and a reputation for a certain portfolio of work. That, and the discussions about diversity going on, meant [the time] was a good fit."
Lawlor was hard-pressed to find any negative reaction from his constituents, adding that he'd received an especially moving message from a local adolescents' physician that said his coming out had the potential to help save lives.
"If that's true, I hope it's the case that the way I went about it was the right thing," Lawlor said. "It wasn't about a rainbow ticker-tape parade. I wanted to be connected with people, and strike a cord and provide value and insight that they can reflect on their own lives."
He said that the LGBT community is not especially politically active in Lake County beyond some PFLAG chapters and gay-straight alliances in local schools, adding, "That's something I especially feel an opportunity to engage and speak to. I sometimes feel like I want to print up t-shirts that say, 'Yes, we're in the suburbs.''
Lawlor affirmed his commitment to working on LGBT-rights issues, but said he'd be balancing it with his work on the county board, which, quite often, didn't overlap.
"The board hardly ever takes positions that say, 'It is the sense of the county board that this issue is good or bad,'" he said. "It's important to recognize I have deeply held beliefs about equality issues and I advocate for them regularly as an individual elected official. But the measure of success or failure in our office is the strength of our budget, or whether we are making our pension payments, or have a triple-A credit rating. You're not talking about gay or straight issuesthey're good government issues."