October 1, 2016
When I began my tenure as CEO of Equality Illinois in June, I promised you I would spend my first few months doing more listening than talking. I told you I would travel around the state to meet with LGBTQ stakeholders and our allies, to hear your stories, and learn about your hopes and fears for the future.
And judging by the miles I put on my Jeep and the pile of Amtrak ticket stubs on my desk, I can tell you that I have had the great privilege of meeting many of you in your home towns. From Carbondale to Rockford, from the Quad Cities to Champaign-Urbana, I sat in church basements, cafes, classrooms, homes, offices, and even a campsite. And in these settings, hundreds of you told me your stories: the stories about the ways in which you are proud, the ways in which you still feel we are not equal, and your vision for the future.
THANK YOU. You have shared so much of yourselves, and I am honored to fight for you with your stories in my head and heart.
To demonstrate my gratitude, I want to share with you what I heard and how those stories will be informing our direction in the short run and into the future:
What I heard
While I couldn’t aptly sum up all the stories and issues you raised, I can share that many of your concerns about ways in which we need to fight for a more equitable future fell into four categories:
• Education – Our schools are not yet fully equal and affirming places. LGBTQ students are bullied. Our transgender students are too often the target of hate-inspired policies. And our schools ignore our history and fail to teach the valuable contributions of LGBTQ Americans in our history, our literature, our arts, and our sciences.
• Health care – In many communities, particularly those outside of Cook County, you told me about how hard it can be to find access to adequate and affirming healthcare: doctors who will prescribe PrEP, support patients through their transition, and respond in culturally affirming and appropriate ways to their LGBTQ patients.
• Criminal justice – LGBTQ people are not consistently treated fairly in the criminal justice system. National data points to the fact that among juvenile detainees, LGBTQ youth are over-represented. Some shared stories about how LGBTQ inmates are detained in solitary confinement for their protection.
• Safety – In a world where our community is often the target of vitriol from anti-LGBTQ leaders with a national platform, many LGBTQ Illinoisans expressed deep concern about the safety of our community members. This concern was particularly heightened in the wake of the tragedy in Orlando, but it also envelopes the victims of hate crimes which far too often target members of the LGBTQ community
Our year ahead
Between now and the summer of 2017, we are working to have one of the strongest years in Equality Illinois’ history. We anticipate training hundreds of people in advocating for LGBTQ equality, conducting outreach to thousands of people across the state, engaging hundreds of employers and faith leaders to help create affirming environments for LGBTQ Illinoisans, and speaking to hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans through the media.
In large part because of what many of you shared with me, we are also adopting a number of immediate changes at Equality Illinois. Some examples include:
• Community Advisory Group – We are launching a small Community Advisory Group that will bring together a diverse cross section of voices from across the state. We aim to engage this council in a consistent and ongoing basis to help inform the policy positions Equality Illinois ends up adopting. We’ll share information shortly about how to sign up for the group.
• LGBTQ – To be more fully inclusive in how we describe the community we serve, we will use the language LGBTQ, adding the letter “Q,” to more transparently embrace members of our community who are queer or questioning, and other valued members of our community who do not self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
• New staff – We are hiring a new Director of Education and Outreach. With this new role, we are doubling down our commitment to reach beyond the communities and stakeholders we have traditionally engaged with to more fully push for LGBTQ acceptance throughout the state.
Preparing for the ongoing fight for equality and acceptance
The listening tour was only the beginning of our ongoing dialogue with our stakeholders throughout the state. This fall, we are launching a more intensive series of conversations to help us draft our Strategic Plan that will shape our direction from 2017-2021. We hope to make this process the most inclusive process we have ever used to plan for our future direction. Please keep an eye out for requests for your input: from online surveys to Town Halls we plan to have throughout the state, your counsel and advice will be critical to help us shape our future working together.
In conclusion, I want to affirm how excited I am to be working with you and all of our stakeholders to move Illinois forward to a place where it is fully accepting of all its LGBTQ citizens. We have come a long way, and we have much more to do, so thank you for being on this journey with me.
With gratitude and respect,