With the 2008 Illinois primaries a thing of the past, local activist Marilyn Morales is proud of the unprecedented mobilization of Latina lesbians in the 31st Ward that was sparked by the fear that State Sen. Iris Martinez would lose her legislative seat.
Many were pleased to hear that history would be made when State Rep. Rich Bradley stepped aside to allow lesbian candidate Deb Mell to run unopposed in the 40th District. However, many Latina lesbians feared that Mell's victory would come at the expense of Illinois' first Latina senator. When Bradley decided to run against incumbent Martinez, the possibility that they would lose their community ally became a reality.
Martinez kept her seat, no doubt in part because of a passionate group of Latina lesbians who organized and oversaw between eight and nine precincts ( nearly half of the precincts in the 31st Ward ) in the 20th District. The group won all but one precinct.
'I'm really proud of us,' said Morales, an out lesbian who spearheaded much of the effort to get 'just your neighborhood dykes' to knock on doors, call registered voters and more. Not all reactions were positive, Morales said, but the women proved that they are a force to be reckoned with.
Morales purposely sought out openly gay Latinas to get involved in the campaign because she felt it was crucial to keep Martinez in office. She said she could have chosen anyone else to help with the fight, but felt the race, in addition to being a Latino issue, had become a gay issue. 'We fought very hard to get her in as a state senator,' Morales said.
All of the lesbians involved were new to politics. Morales called the experience a 'comedy of errors.' However, the fresh faces to politics—out lesbians from neighborhoods such as Pilsen and Humboldt Park—were recruiting volunteers, canvassing, manning offices and more.
Martinez, who works alongside State Senate President Emil Jones as assistant majority leader, took home over 50 percent of the vote. Bradley came in second with slightly over 42 percent of the vote.
Not only did the women help Martinez keep her seat, but also felt they received 'renewed respect,' Morales said. It provided much-needed visibility and recognition of gays and lesbians within the Latino community, where homophobia is still very prevalent.
Morales feels that the gay Latino community isn't as involved as it should be, and wants to use this unprecedented experience as a stepping stone for further action. The group of women plan to continue their work by, first of all, discussion of how Latina lesbians can continue to be a viable part of the Latino community. She envisions them working on issues crucial to the Latino community, such as health care, education and immigration, and working toward getting the larger LGBT community to understand the importance of these issues.
'This was a big deal for us,' Morales said. 'I'm just really excited about the work that we did. I think we were really instrumental.'