Planned Parenthood Illinois Action (PPIA) hosted a virtual Black Community Town Hall: LGBTQIA+ Health Feb. 22 to cap off a four-part series in honor of Black History Month. The three prior town halls focused on community care and wellness, climate policy and environmentalism, and prisons and policing.
The town hall featured Black queer activist and Decatur Public Library Trustee Alana Banks, who is also the first transgender women elected to a public school board; and out gay Illinois state Rep. Lamont Robinson. PPIA Black Organizing Program (BOP) Program Manager Michael Morgan and PPIA BOP Fellow Mariana Thomas moderated the event.
Morgan started the talk with information about what the BOP does within PPIA, such as aiming to elevate the voices of Black people in policy discussions.
Thomas asked Banks and Robinson how they came to the work they are doing.
Banks spoke about being a student representative and getting involved with the school board while she was still in high school. She decided to run for the school board because she wanted to provide the representation that the then board lacked.
Robinson said he was in student government at Clark-Atlanta University and that was the first time he had a constituent base. He said that listening to his fellow student's concerns back then has helped him as a member of the Illinois General Assembly. Robinson added that he is the first Black LGBTQ person elected to the Illinois General Assembly.
Morgan asked Robinson about Illinois SB 818, the Keeping Youth Safe and Healthy Act, which Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law last summer.
Robinson said the law was necessary because it updates and expands the sex education curriculum to include LGBTQ specific topics and HIV and other STI infection information. He also praised his fellow lawmakers for supporting this legislation.
Thomas asked Morgan about how that new law has improved how personal health and sex education are taught.
Morgan said that especially in the area of HIV education this is revolutionary law because students will be taught accurate information. She added that times are different now and it is important to make students culturally aware using the language they understand.
Robinson spoke about the need to have more people like himself and Morgan in elected office across the country so these issues are addressed. He said that it is vital for places like the Illinois General Assembly to quash anti-LGBTQ bills that GOP state legislators bring to committee votes. Robinson reminded attendees that trans youth especially are under attack in GOP-controlled states.
Both spoke about the need for increased funding for HIV prevention especially amongst the Black community. This includes education initiatives outside the classroom. Robinson specifically mentioned funding the African American Response Act that was created in the 1980s. He is asking for $15 million to do this work and for it to be funded annually out of general revenues.
Robinson spoke about the need for LGBTQ centers across Illinois, especially in underserved areas, and praised Howard Brown's expansion into Chicago's South and West sides.
Banks added that funding for LGBTQ centers should be focused on central and southern Illinois.
Other topics included the repeal of the Parental Notice of Abortion Act that was recently signed into law, how the Pritzker administration is moving in the right direction in terms of abortion and other reproductive access, making Illinois a safe haven for those needing abortion care and the breaking news that Keturah Herron's House District 42 special election landslide victory will make her the first out LGBTQ person to serve in Kentucky's state house.
When asked what their outlook is on more Black LGBTQ people getting elected, Banks said she was heartened when a woman told her she would not be the last one to shatter that glass ceiling. Robinson added that organizations like the Victory Fund supports LGBTQ candidates and people should support them with their efforts.
In terms of their thoughts about this year's Black History Month, Banks is "grateful for the privilege I have" and how "nice it is to enter this space (town hall)" where Black LGBTQ people are centered. Robinson added that he is "proud to be on the call with the three of you" and that he knows he is doing great work for his community.
See plannedparenthoodaction.org/planned-parenthood-illinois-action/take-action/black-organizing-program .