Both of Chicago’s mayoral candidates were invited to the virtual forum to discuss their plans to support the city’s queer and trans communities – only one was in attendance.
The ACLU is currently tracking 428 “anti-LGBTQ” bills across the country. Although these do not directly impact Illinois, the national status of abortion care, trans rights and school climate for LGBTQ+ students are top of mind for many this election season. For some Chicagoans, their vote for the city’s next mayor will be determined by his plan to address these issues.
In a lineup of back-to-back forums and debates leading up to the April 4 runoff election, Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson were invited to participate in the “Mayoral Candidates Forum on Issues Affecting LGBTQ+ People of Color,” a collaborative effort led by local organizations focused on supporting queer communities of color: Affinity Community Services, ALMA Chicago, Brave Space Alliance, Chicago Black Gay Men’s Caucus, Task Force, Life is Work and Mony Ruiz-Velasco from Equality Illinois.
“The individuals that live at that intersectionality have the right to have our voices not only heard but issues and concerns addressed,” Manuel Hernandez, Executive Director of the Association of Latinos/as/xs Motivating Action (ALMA), said in a statement to Rebellious.
“This is a very important population in the City of Chicago,” echoed Kim Hunt, longtime leader of several local LGBTQ+ and HIV/AIDS organizations. Hunt and Alexis Martinez, trans activist and organizer, moderated the discussion.
Both candidates took part in a debate hosted by FOX 32, which started two hours prior. Around 8:10 p.m. Johnson joined the virtual forum from his car. Vallas did not attend.
With only one candidate responding to predetermined questions, Johnson flew through the program with concise answers, touching on points he carried throughout his campaign, including increased funding towards community services that will, in turn, prevent crime. He mentioned the Bring Chicago Home ordinance, Treatment Not Trauma and investments in the city’s mental health infrastructure, and developing robust youth employment opportunities.
“Safe American cities invest in people,” he said.
According to a 2022 report by ABC 7’s I-Team, since 2020 more trans people have been killed in Chicago than in any other city in the country. Most of these cases go unsolved.
When asked how he would protect trans and gender non-conforming people, Johnson said he wanted Black trans women to be affirmed and noted the importance of accessibility to housing and support services for those most vulnerable. He said that he is committed to solving these violent acts, including training and promoting 200 more detectives.
“These acts will continue if people think they can get away with it,” said Johnson.
Hunt questioned Johnson on his approach toward addressing racial tensions between Chicago’s Black and Latinx communities.
“Thank you for lifting up the fact that it’s fabricated,” said Johnson. He cited the importance of working together to strengthen both communities, stating “no one has to lose at the expense of someone else winning.”
When it comes to queer agenda, the two candidates have their differences.
While Vallas reserves a small portion of his plan for women’s health and safety, no part of his proposed mayoral agenda explicitly mentions LGBTQ+ issues. In contrast, Johnson devotes entire portions of his agenda to gender equity and LGBTQ+ rights, including a plan to create and fully fund a Department of LGBTQ Affairs within the Office of Gender Equity.
He’s also been endorsed by queer organizations and elected officials – including an endorsement from openly gay Illinois State Senator Mike Simmons in front of a full house at Sleeping Village during Slo ‘Mo, a popular monthly queer dance party.
Despite this, Hunt didn’t hold back in questioning Johnson about a recent endorsement from Bishop Larry Trotter, renowned gospel singer and longtime senior pastor of Sweet Holy Spirit Church in South Chicago, who has a long history of being openly anti-gay marriage.
She asked him to address queer and trans supporters who have concerns about the endorsement.
However, Johnson, who is open about his Christian faith and childhood as a PK (pastor’s kid) said the contradictory endorsements speak more to his ability to reach across the figurative political aisle.
“There are people who have been staunch enemies for years, and they’re both at my table,” he said, adding that many faith communities “don’t get it right” when it comes to loving and affirming members of the LGBTQ+ community. He credited his parents for not shying away from these topics during his upbringing.
“I’m built for this,” said Johnson.
The Zoom forum was interrupted after about 45 minutes by a member of Johnson’s team who said he needed to go.
In recent weeks, there have been many forums centered on specific issues or communities. Ultimately, Hernandez says, voters want assurance that their needs will be addressed by Chicago’s next leader.
“The next mayor has to do more than just listen to the community, but act on the concerns and issues,” said Hernandez.