One Political Race, Two Gay Candidates, Not One Word About It

"Out" politicians don't seem very "out"

By Matt Bartosik
|  Wednesday, Oct 28, 2009  |  Updated 6:16 AM CDT
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Chicago's gay politicians remain in the shadows.

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The Northwest Side's 40th District Democratic primary in February is lining up to be a historic political event in Illinois.

Columbia College instructor Joe Laiacona—an openly gay man—has collected enough signatures to get on the ballot to challenge incumbent State Rep. Deb Mell—the first openly gay woman to serve in the Illinois General Assembly. If both keep their hats in the ring, the race will be the first of its kind at this level of politics in Illinois.

And yet, despite this political milestone, there is little to no fanfare of the event. In fact, neither of the candidates even mentions sexual orientation in his/her online campaign bio.

Some may argue that heterosexual politicians don't "announce" their orientation, so therefore homosexual politicians shouldn't either.

But the reason "straight" politicians don't declare their identity is because it is assumed for them. Unless a public figure says otherwise, most people will assume he/she is hetero.

And when a politician wants constituents to know he (or she) is family-oriented, he (or she) makes sure to appear everywhere in public and in photos with his (or her) spouse and children.

However, there is absolutely no mention of Jack Laiacona's partner. Instead, his bio mentions his two daughters, his two grandsons, and that "he is an avid gardener."

The Windy City Times asked Laiacona about the omission:

WCT: Why, in your biography, is your partner not mentioned?

JOE LAIACONA: [ Pauses. ] Because he's not.

WCT: Did he not want it mentioned?

JOE LAIACONA: No—we've never discussed it. As a matter of fact, I don't think my sexual orientation should be an issue.

Mr. Laiacona, your sexual orientation is an issue. As a columnist for Gay Chicago Magazine for 17 years, you should know that visibility is important.

It was important when Barack Obama became the first African-American to be elected President of the U.S. It was important when Nancy Pelosi became the first female Speaker of the House. And it is important that a gay man and a lesbian woman are confident contenders in the February primary.

The gay and lesbian community should see that a person doesn't have to whitewash his identity in order to be elected.

But perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by Laiacona's non-identity. When the Times asked Laiacona why he hasn't addressed LGBT rights in his campaign, he replied, "It's not an issue in my neighborhood."

So there are no gay or lesbian people anywhere in the 40th District?

Laiacona continued, "I'm not going back into the closet, but I'm not making an issue out of it."

No, Mr. Laiacona, you're not lying. But you're not telling the full truth either.

Matt Bartosik, a "between blogs" blogger, plays identity politics.

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