LGBT Advocacy Day 2015

Advocates Urge Support for LGBT Youth and State-Funded Services
Citizens opposed to conversion therapy and budget cuts meet with lawmakers

SPRINGFIELD – At LGBT Advocacy Day on Wednesday in the State Capitol, Equality Illinois, its partner organizations, and citizens from across the state called on the General Assembly and Gov. Bruce Rauner to approve legislation protecting LGBT youth from dangerous and ineffective conversion therapy and adopt a responsible budget that protects vital services for Illinois workers, families, children, seniors, immigrants, and other residents.

“The struggle for LGBT equality did not end with our momentous marriage equality victory,” said Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois. “We are engaged in the struggle for lived equality in Illinois by protecting the mental and physical health of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth from harmful, discredited conversion therapy and ensuring the most vulnerable residents of our state have access to the essential services they need to lead fulfilling lives.”

Partnering with the Center on Halsted, Phoenix Center of Springfield, and New Hope Recovery Center, Equality Illinois hosted and organized today’s LGBT Advocacy Day at the State Capitol. Citizen advocates from across Illinois today are meeting with their legislators to pass House Bill 217, which protects LGBT youth from harmful, discredited conversion therapy, and ensure a budget plan that protects vital services for Illinoisans.

Rep. Kelly Cassidy discusses her bill to protect LGBT youth from dangerous conversion therapy at a Springfield press conference with Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov (center) and Jeff Zacharias, of the New Hope Recovery Center
Rep. Kelly Cassidy discusses her bill to protect LGBT youth from dangerous conversion therapy at a Springfield press conference with Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov (center) and Jeff Zacharias, of  New Hope Recovery Center

At a morning press conference, Cherkasov was joined by Rep. Kelly Cassidy, chief sponsor of HB 217, the Youth Mental Health Protection Act; Jeff Zacharias, President and Clinical Director, New Hope Recovery Center, Chicago; Ramon Gardenhire, Vice President of Policy at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago; Rev. Jamie Frazier, Senior Pastor, Lighthouse Church of Chicago, and Curtis Galloway, a college student who survived an attempt at conversion therapy. They called upon the General Assembly and Gov. Rauner to approve House Bill 217 and adopt a responsible budget that ensures adequate revenues, supports shared priorities, and makes smart investments in Illinoisans.

“Equality Illinois strongly opposes the proposed Fiscal Year 2016 cuts to programs that provide relief and opportunity to many Illinoisans,” Cherkasov said. “We must fight against poverty, ensure access to health care and housing, and cultivate an environment where every person is safe and secure in their school, workplace, and neighborhood. The budget must demonstrate these priorities.”

Equality Illinois, the state’s oldest and largest advocacy organization for LGBT Illinoisans, is a member of the Responsible Budget Coalition, a large and diverse coalition of 150 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.

Equality Illinois outlined several of the dramatic cuts it opposes in the proposed Fiscal Year 2016 budget.

HIV/AIDS: Funding for HIV/AIDS services are reduced by 25%, and the African-American HIV/AIDS Response Fund is cut by 66%. These cuts, which translate into more than 7,000 less HIV tests administered in the next fiscal year, are especially troubling because 50% of all new HIV cases occur within the African-American community. For every new case of HIV prevented, the state saves $435,000 per person in lifetime medical care and treatment costs.

Medicaid: The proposed budget slashes the Medicaid program by $1.47 billion, including elimination of programs for renal dialysis, adult dental services, and podiatry services. The plan also ends Medicaid eligibility for the hemophilia program and Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program, which ensures that low-income uninsured women and transgender people have access to HPV testing, breast and chest health screenings, and Pap smears. These massive cuts to the Medicaid program directly impact the health of HIV+ people, transgender people, and women. For these individuals, early detection of infection and cancer can mean the difference between life and death.

Homelessness and Stable Housing: Forty percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT. Many of these youths leave or are thrown out of their homes when they come out of the closet. It is deeply harmful to them then that the proposed budget would deny more than 1,300 homeless youth access to shelters and other services. Also, more than 10,000 recently homeless households would lose access to supportive housing services while almost 1,000 at-risk households would be prevented from accessing assistance that could keep them in their homes.

Mental Health: The proposed budget cuts or eliminates funding for mental health services, including funds for psychiatry and care coordinators who assist people with mental illness in finding appropriate care. Mental health services are especially important to LGBT youth, who suffer higher rates of depression, suicide attempts, and substance abuse because of rejection, social stigmatization, and harmful conversion therapy.

Anti-bullying: Funding is eliminated for programs that prevent school bullying despite adoption last year of major legislation requiring school officials to create and implement specific anti-bullying policies.

Immigrant Integration Services: These services are wiped out by the proposed budget. The program provides critical assistance to many LGBT immigrants seeking asylum in the United States or potentially to marry a partner.

Advocates also urged lawmakers to approve House Bill 217, which protects the mental and physical health of LGBT youth from harmful, discredited conversion therapy that coercively seeks to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. Equality Illinois has made passage of this bill a priority during the spring session. The legislation, which is sponsored by Rep. Cassidy and Sen. Daniel Biss, awaits consideration by the Illinois House of Representatives after passing the House Juvenile Justice and System-Involved Youth Committee last month.

The practice of conversion therapy has been thoroughly discredited and rejected by the major medical and mental health organizations in the United States. Recently, such Illinois-based organizations released a strong statement of support for HB 217, calling on the General Assembly and Gov. Rauner to protect the physical and mental health of LGBT youth from conversion therapy. These organizations said that conversion therapy has no scientific foundation and is harmful to LGBT youth. Rejected or socially stigmatized LGBT youth are more likely than their peers to attempt suicide, have high levels of depression, and engage in substance abuse and risky sexual behavior. Their statement is here.

Last week, President Barack Obama and Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy announced their support for such legislation as HB 217. “As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors,” the White House said.

“The President’s support is so timely and significant as we in Illinois work to protect LGBT youth from conversion therapy,” Cherkasov said. “We now call upon the General Assembly to act on this legislation and show LGBT young people in Illinois that they are valued for who they are.”

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