As the new Director of Public Policy at Equality Illinois, I’m excited to provide my first legislative report to you.
On January 12, Governor Bruce Rauner, Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Secretary of State Jesse White, Treasurer Michael Frerichs, and Comptroller Leslie Munger were inaugurated. Two days later, the 99th Session of the General Assembly commenced, with several new supporters of LGBT equality joining the ranks of legislators. Equality Illinois is committed to working with Governor Rauner, the other statewide officials, and all members of the General Assembly to protect and promote LGBT equality and social justice in Illinois.
Right away, Equality Illinois got to work.
We are aggressively advocating for a ban on conversion therapy that adversely impacts LGBT youth. Rep. Kelly Cassidy and Sen. Daniel Biss are sponsoring House Bill 217 and Senate Bill 111. The legislation prohibits mental health providers in Illinois from engaging in conversion therapy with anyone under the age of 18. Leading and respected mental health organizations have rejected conversion therapy as in-effective and harmful to LGBT people. Young people who face rejection and social stigmatization because of their sexual orientation and gender identity are more likely to attempt suicide, more likely to have high levels of depression, and more likely to use illegal drugs. To protect the physical and mental health of young people, Equality Illinois is leading the charge to prohibit the use of conversion therapy in Illinois.
I am proud to partner with Rep. Cassidy and Sen. Biss to ensure passage of the ban. Already, I am working with Patty Dillon, our Director of Field Operations, and our bipartisan lobbying team on a strategy to ensure passage of the ban and protect the lives of LGBT youth.
Additionally, Equality Illinois is monitoring appointments made by Governor Rauner. In particular, we congratulate Rocco Claps on his re-appointment as Director of the Illinois Department of Human Rights. Director Claps has led the agency since 2003, when he became the first openly gay person to helm a State agency. We also welcome Trey Childress, the new Deputy Governor, who previously served on the board of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, and applaud Governor Rauner’s appointment of Leslie Munger as Comptroller.
Unfortunately, Rev. James Meeks, an outspoken opponent of LGBT equality, was appointed as Chair of the Illinois State Board of Education and has already taken office pending Senate confirmation. Equality Illinois is moving forward with a diverse coalition of organizations and communities to ensure Meeks’ anti-equality social views are aired during his confirmation process. In a joint statement, the coalition said, “Rev. Meeks has been a divisive voice, attempting to drive a wedge between Illinoisans based on race, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation.” We cannot allow his social views to creep into the State’s education policies, and we must ensure that recent anti-bullying rules are properly implemented so that young people feel safe in Illinois schools.
I am also monitoring federal legislative activity and will work with allies in the Illinois Congressional delegation, in federal agencies and the Obama Administration to advance LGBT issues, such as ending the restriction on blood donations by gay men and illuminating the discrimination that exists nationally from the lack of comprehensive protections under federal law. The new Congress presents new challenges, but we must persevere and promote full equality throughout the Midwest and United States.
I’m excited and energized to be in the fight for human rights in Illinois. Look for more updates from me as we move into spring and deeper into the legislative session.