“You’ve got marriage equality. Aren’t you done?” That’s a question I’ve often been asked about the struggle for equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. As policy director at Equality Illinois, the state’s oldest and largest advocacy organization for LGBT Illinoisans, I push back forcefully.
LGBT Illinoisans are part of the fabric of our state. And in Illinois, we have a strong legal foundation to stand on as we look to the future. We have LGBT-inclusive civil rights protections, anti-bullying policies, and marriage equality. Thanks to our work in 2015, we now protect LGBT youth from harmful and discredited conversion therapy.
As far as we’ve come in Illinois regarding legal protections and widespread acceptance, the work for a much more challenging lived equality continues here and across America.
Our organization is educating faith communities on how to advocate for equality and create safe and welcoming congregations for LGBT individuals. Through sensitivity trainings, we encourage law enforcement personnel and TSA agents to be better allies to the LGBT community. Through our Corporate Social Responsibility program, we are working with businesses to foster and ensure the most affirming and welcoming workplace environments possible. By opening a Central Illinois office, we significantly expanded our critical educational programs and outreach events throughout the state. With this work, we are building broad coalitions with faith leaders, students, labor unions, community and advocacy groups, and businesses.
We know the fight for full legal equality for LGBT Illinoisans is not over. That’s why we are pushing forward on proposals in Springfield that advance the equal rights of LGBT Illinoisans. For instance, SB 3046 curtails the use of the gay and trans panic defense in murder cases in Illinois. These defenses allow a criminal defendant to blame the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity as the cause of the attacker’s violent action. Another bill, SB 3286, establishes non-discrimination protections in jury service.
Transgender individuals face many challenges. For instance, nationally, 78% of transgender people report harassment and bullying in schools, and 90% report workplace discrimination. Some challenges are related to a person’s inability to update identity documents, including birth certificates, to reflect the person’s accurate gender identity. More than 75% of transgender people have not been able to update the gender marker on their birth certificate. To avoid humiliation and harassment, it is critically important for transgender individuals to have identification documents that reflect their authentic gender identity.
That’s why Equality Illinois is advocating for HB 6073, which would modernize the standard for a person to change the gender marker on their birth certificate. Consistent with modern standards of medical care, a mental health or medical professional would declare that the person has undergone clinically appropriate treatment and, therefore, the gender marker should be changed. The federal government and eleven other states have adopted a similar standard.
Most critical at the moment are the budget challenges facing Illinois. Equality Illinois is a member of the Responsible Budget Coalition, a large and diverse coalition of 250 organizations united to preserve vital services for Illinoisans. The coalition focuses on three common principles: ensure adequate revenue to support state priorities and make smart investments, make no more cuts to services, and establish fairness in revenue sharing and cuts caused by failure to raise adequate revenue. We stand by those principles as this ongoing budget impasse threatens the livelihoods and lives of so many Illinoisans.
We are also leading the opposition to anti-equality measures that would weaken the Illinois Human Rights Act and allow discrimination against same-sex couples, transgender students, and unmarried straight parents. These anti-LGBT equality bills are part of a broad national effort to weaken the equal rights of LGBT people.
Our important work does not stop at the Illinois border. Equality Illinois is the largest LGBT advocacy organization in the Midwest, and it is the responsibility of the community to speak up on issues in Washington, D.C. Just driving across the border to Indiana, Missouri, or Kentucky means our non-discrimination protections are stripped from us. In a majority of states, a LGBT person could get married Sunday and be fired on Monday. Or kicked out of their apartment. Or be denied a meal at a restaurant. All because of who they love or for living authentically. This is unacceptable.
That’s why we are working in Washington, D.C. to pass the Equality Act, the first-ever comprehensive civil rights bill for LGBT Americans. With the Equality Act, all LGBT Americans would enjoy the full protections of the law that we enjoy here in Illinois.
I urge you to join our cause and work with us to ensure lived equality and justice for all Illinoisans. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Director of Public Policy