The Rauner Administration at Six Months

An Equality Illinois Report
 

July marks Governor Bruce Rauner’s first six months in office. How have the Administration’s actions impacted LGBT Illinoisans? We’ve been tracking developments. Here’s our report:

Appointments:

The Governor has the executive authority to appoint directors of state agencies as well as his own staff. Among scores of nominees, Governor Rauner appointed:

The Rev. James Meeks, an outspoken opponent of LGBT equality, was appointed as Chair of the Illinois State Board of Education. Equality Illinois vigorously opposed this nomination. While Rev. Meeks was ultimately confirmed by the Illinois Senate, Equality Illinois and its partners continue to monitor the Board’s action so that anti-equality views do not creep into the state’s education policies.

Trey Childress is Deputy Governor. He is a former Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund board member and a leader in the fight against discriminatory “religious freedom” legislation in Georgia last year.

Rocco Claps was re-appointed as Director of the Illinois Department of Human Rights. First appointed in 2003, Director Claps is the first openly LGBT agency director in the state’s history.

George Sheldon was appointed as Director of the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services, the state’s child welfare agency. Director Sheldon was previously Secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families. There, he opposed the state’s ban on adoptions by gay and lesbian Floridians and, in 2010, took swift action to implement a judge’s order ending the ban. He also was a proponent of non-discrimination protections for LGBT Floridians.

Directives:

Following discussions led by Equality Illinois with the participation of our partner groups, the Governor issued two directives:
• strict enforcement of all Illinois non-discrimination and anti-bullying laws, including as they apply to protect LGBT individuals.
• requiring the Illinois Department of Human Rights to conduct a survey on patterns of discrimination and unequal treatment faced by Illinoisans and to provide actionable recommendations to the Governor by January 31, 2016.

As part of those same discussions, the Governor designated Marcos Peterson as the Administration’s liaison to the LGBT community.

Outreach:

In the first-of-its-kind meeting for his Administration, Governor Rauner sat down and talked about LGBT issues with leaders of LGBT advocacy organizations on March 20. During that meeting, the Governor committed his Administration to non-discrimination and expressed opposition to efforts to establish discrimination in law under the guise of religious freedom.

In May, regarding Indiana’s so-called “religious freedom” law, Governor Rauner said: “I believe Illinois has struck the right balance between religious freedom and anti-discrimination laws and I support Illinois’ position on these issues.” He added that he thinks the Indiana law would open the door to discriminatory behavior.

In a meeting facilitated by Equality Illinois and the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, the Governor met with HIV/AIDS advocates and survivors of “conversion therapy” on April 15 at the State Capitol. Advocates told their personal stories of undergoing “conversion therapy” and living with HIV/AIDS and why it is important to protect young people and ensure full funding for the AIDS Drugs Assistance Program and PrEP program.

On June 25, Governor Rauner attended the Equality Illinois Tribute Reception, stating: “We are committed to making sure Illinois is a place of inclusion and diversity and the American Dream coming alive and having an equal opportunity at the American Dream…for every citizen and resident of the State of Illinois.” Click to view the Governor’s full Pride Month comments to the 200 attendees.

Legislation:

This spring, Equality Illinois led the charge on over a dozen bills of importance to the LGBT community, including three pieces of milestone legislation: House Bill 217, which protects LGBT youth from dangerous, discredited “conversion therapy”; House Bill 3552, which allows a person to specify his or her gender identity in funeral and burial instructions; and House Bill 3930, which enhances Illinois hate crimes provisions by explicitly including gender identity and protecting LGBT community centers. These bills passed the General Assembly with bipartisan majorities.

On July 20, Governor Rauner signed HB3930, the enhanced hate crimes protections. Equality Illinois calls upon Governor Rauner to sign HB 217 and HB3552.

Budget:

Early in 2015, Governor Rauner proposed his Fiscal Year 2016 budget plan that made dramatic cuts to essential services for the most vulnerable Illinoisans: HIV/AIDS programming, Medicaid, homeless youth and stable housing services, mental health services, and anti-bullying initiatives, among other programs. Equality Illinois opposed the proposed budget.

As a member of the Responsible Budget Coalition, Equality Illinois advocates for a fair and fully-funded budget that ensures adequate revenue for critical services. As part of its budget advocacy, Equality Illinois facilitated drafting of a letter signed by more than 40 faith leaders asking the Governor to propose and move forward with a moral budget plan that provides for the needs of the most vulnerable Illinoisans.

The state’s Fiscal Year 2016 began on July 1. Currently, the State is operating without a budget due to an impasse between the Governor and General Assembly. The lack of a budget is catastrophic for individuals who rely on State-funded services and programs, especially the AIDS Drug Assistance Program and homeless youth support services.

Without a budget, these programs won’t be funded.

Equality Illinois will continue to advocate for a responsible and fully-funded budget plan.