With the appointment of lesbian activist Kelly Cassidy to represent Edgewater and Rogers Park in the state house, the LGBT community now dominates politics on the north lakefront. Cassidy’s fellow state representative, Greg Harris, is gay. So are both the area’s aldermen -- Tom Tunney of the 44th Ward, and newly-elected James Cappelman of the 46th Ward.
The lakefront is the most gay-friendly part of Chicago. When two men hold hands on Broadway, no one stares. But gays and lesbians aren’t close to a majority there. So why do they hold so many political offices? Probably because they’ve been forced into political activism. As a group long ostracized by law and custom, homosexuals have spent the last 40 years fighting to become equal members of society. They’ve organized and lobbied and demonstrated for laws guaranteeing they can’t be fired or denied housing because of their sexual orientation, and then for laws allowing them to right to marry the people they love. It’s been the last civil rights battle, and it’s brought them into contact with mayors, governors, congressmen and presidents.
A community that political is going to develop a lot of political talent. Cassidy is already well known in Springfield. Here’s Rick Garcia, former director of the Equality Illinois, talking about her in Gay Chicago magazine:
Garcia remembered that in 1996 Cassidy (who had a broken leg) helped organize a major lobby day at the Springfield capitol to oppose the legislative ban on same-sex marriage.
“It was one of our largest lobby days and there was Kelly hobbling around in a foot cast and crutches,” Garcia said. “That is a real commitment to fairness and equality. She will be a strong and effective advocate in Springfield.”
Chicago’s only other openly gay politician is state Rep. Deb Mell. But Mell’s sexual orientation has nothing to do with her political success. She’s the daughter of 33rd Ward Ald. Richard Mell, so she’d have that job even if she practiced plural marriage.
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