State Sen. Mike Simmons (D-Chicago) was joined by several activists and service-providers at a forum at Gerber/Hart Library and Archives on June 25.
Simmons described the event as a "reflection" on Pride month, inspired by similar reflections he participates in to mark each Juneteenth. He and his fellow speakers centered the LGBTQ history, mental health, housing instability and community members at various intersections, among other issues during their remarks.
The senator emphasized that many in the community have identities more varied than simply being LGBTQ, adding that, from his own perspective, "Blackness and queerness is indivisible in terms of how I identify in this world."
Comedian, writer and activist Kujichagulia Juniper (KJ) Whitehead asserted that open discussion can bring about needed progress and change and noted that Chicago is a good place to do that work.
"I've seen that Chicago is one of the best places for comedy because it's a very 'DIY' space, and I think that also applies to activism," Whitehead said, reminding the audience to "speak your mind."
Simmons then said that Whitehead's suggestion is something he has taken to heart in Springfield, where he's not been afraid to have uncomfortable conversations. "I don't want to be someone's darling," he added. "I want to speak truth to power."
Brave Space Alliance (BSA) Executive Director LaSaia Wade spoke about Mary Jones, one of the earliest known transgender persons in American history, then discussed BSA's efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. Irma Stanley, program director for Affinity Community Services, recounted how Affinity helped them as the pandemic unfolded. Speaking of the comradely and support they received, Stanley said, "That is what pride is."
Legacy Project Executive Director Victor Salvo emphasized the importance of the LGBTQ community knowing their own history; the public-school system that has historically either glossed over or completely ignored "has denied us a reality about ourselves."
"We can learn from the past," added Gerber/Hart President Wil Brant. "Through those connections in history…we know we are part of something larger."
But Salvo was optimistic about the community's future.
"We have endured," he said. "We have triumphed and we have changed the world. That, my friends, is a hell of a lot to be proud of."
Other speakers included Affinity Board President Anna DeShawn; Lorde, Rustin & Bates Managing Director Anthony Galloway; Howard Brown Health President and CEO David Munar; Equality Illinois Director of Public Policy Mike Ziri; and J. Salias Leslie of Chicago Therapy Collective and #HireTransNow.