Many of the advancements made in LGBT rights in Illinois have served as models for laws that have, or need to be, passed at the federal level, according to U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi.
The Democratic House Leader was among those who gathered Feb. 6 for Equality Illinois's gala celebrating its 25th anniversary. About 1,500 guests attended the sold-out event at the Chicago Hilton, according to organization officials.
Pelosi received the organization's 2016 Freedom Award. In her remarks, she noted that the award had been given in 2005 to activists Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. "When we argued the Defense of Marriage Act, I displayed their portrait, in large form, on the floor of the House as a tribute to them, [to inspire] a vote against the so-called Defense of Marriage Act," she recalled.
She paid tribute to gala Chair J.B. Pritzker, chairman of the Pritzker Group, recalling her work with his mother, Sue, with whom she worked on an early Democratic platform supporting LGBT families. "He comes by his support and his values in a family way," Pelosi said, acknowledging activist and businessman Fred Eychaner's role as well. "Without Fred Eychaner, none of the accomplishments that we celebrate tonight would have been possible."
She added, "For 25 years, Equality Illinois has stood at the front lines, advancing LGBT values. Indeed, expanding freedom in America, that belongs to every American. Your determined leadership has returned key legislative victories for LGBT rights in Illinois. Your engagement has empowered vital progress on the national level."
Pelosi called for passage of a federal ban on anti-gay conversion therapy on minors as well as passage of the the Equality Act in her remarks.
Guests were given a copy of a letter from President Barack Obama that honored the anniversary. "By striving to lift up the LGBT community, you have helped set the continued trajectory of our society toward justice and equality," Obama wrote. "Your work to build a more inclusive country serves as a reminder to the lasting change we can bring about when we all come together in common purpose."
Robert Mariano of Roundy's Supermarkets accepted the 2016 Business Leadership Award on behalf of the Mariano's chain of groceries. "This will stand as one of the finest honors I will ever receive," Mariano said. "... Thank you for acknowledging what we do every day."
Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov announced in January that he would be stepping down from his role soon. Equality Illinois Institute Board Chair Anthony D'Amato, in opening remarks, elaborated on Cherkasov's contribution to the organization.
"When Bernard joined Equality [Illinois], he faced an agency confronting multiple challengesorganizational, financial, reputational," D'Amato said. "As a result of his tireless leadership, he is leaving a successful agency that is expanding, with an enhanced Chicago-based staff and our first permanent presence in downstate Illinois. We have strong and stable finances, and a long list of legislative and civic accomplishments, crowned by the passage of marriage equality."
Also speaking during the presentation were co-founder Arthur Johnston and Board Chair Grant Gochnauer. Cherkasov introduced Pelosi, while Mariano was introduced by Equality Illinois Institute board member Kevin Hauswirth. Equality Illinois PAC Chair Nicole Bashor announced the political officials.
Equality Illinois Institute board member Jason Santos read a tribute to members and friends of the community who have passed away in the previous year, among them activists Kit Duffy, William Kelley and Julian Bond; state Rep. Esther Golar; psychiatrist Robert Spitzer; baseball player Ernie Banks; and LGBT individuals who have fallen victim to violence.
Among the elected and appointed officials in attendance were Judge Cynthia Cobbs; Judge Patricia S. Spratt; British Consulate General in Chicago Stephen Bridges; Honorable Consul of the Kingdom of Belgium Paul M. Van Halteran; state Sen. Daniel Biss; state Rep. Kelly Cassidy; state Sen. Heather Steans; state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz; state Rep. Ann Williams; state Sen. Don Harmon; state Sen. ( and U.S. Senate candidate ) Napoleon B. Harris III; state Rep. Christian Mitchell; state Rep. Lou Lang; state Rep. Greg Harris; former state Rep. Ellis Levin; state Rep. Sam Yingling; state Rep. Mike Smiddy; state Rep. Robert Martwick; Lake County Board Chairman Andrew Lawlor; Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago ( MWRD ) President Mariyana Spyropulos; Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown; Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez; Chicago City Clerk ( and Illinois State Comptroller candidate ) Susana Mendoza; Chicago City Treasurer Kurt Summers; Ald. Joe Moreno; Ald. James Cappleman; Ald. Tom Tunney; Ald. Joe Moore; Ald. Michelle Harris ( who is also running for the circuit court clerk's post ); Ald. Deb Mell; Chicago Commission on Human Relations Chair Mona Noriega; U.S. Rep. ( and U.S. Senate candidate ) Tammy Duckworth; U.S Rep. Mike Quigley; U.S. Rep Jan Schakowsky; U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly; Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle; Illinois State Comptroller Leslie Unger; Illinois State Treasurer Mike Frerichs; U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk; and former Gov. Pat Quinn.
Nitza Gilad, wife of Israeli Consul General Roey Gilad, also attended. Mayor Rahm Emanuel attended the reception prior to the dinner.
Current political candidates included Jacob Meister, running for clerk of the circuit court; Josina Morita, for MWRD commissioner; Andrea Zopp, for U.S. Senate; Raja Krishnamoorthi, for U.S. House; Brad Schneider, a former U.S. Representative seeking re-election for the 10th District; and Carolyn Joan Gallagher for Cook County Circuit Court.