CHICAGO – The new City Council will soon have Chicago’s highest-ever representation of lesbian, gay and bisexual age groups, offering important opportunities to bolster the city’s reputation as a beacon of LGBTQ rights while protecting the most vulnerable members of society, they said.
The number of openly LGB-identifying alderpeople in Chicago will grow from seven to nine, making up one-fifth of the council, when members are sworn in on May 15. No openly transgender or non-binary people of age have been elected in Chicago.
The representation grew even as Alds. Tom Tunney (44th) and James Cappleman (46th) retire this month.
New to the LGBT Caucus are alderpeople-elect Lamont Robinson (4th), Jessie Fuentes (26th), Bennett Lawson (44th) and Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth (48th).
The four fresh faces join Ald. Timmy Knudsen, who won his first election since being appointed to the 43rd Ward seat last fall, re-elected Alds. Raymond Lopez (15th), Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) and Maria Hadden (49th).
Chicago now has the most LGBTQ-identifying officials of any city council in the United States, according to the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, a political action committee dedicated to helping elect LGBTQ-identifying candidates.
All nine of Chicago’s LGB-identifying seniors spoke with the Block Club about why this representation is important, what priorities they hope to tackle and how they think Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson’s administration will support the LGBTQ community.
“This is a great thing because it makes the city of Chicago more reflective of the true diversity of our neighborhoods,” said Lopez, who will now be the most senior member of the caucus, which was formed in 2015. “Issues that are long overdue disappeared. unresolved or unconsidered simply because they were not other people’s problems can actually be solved.”
Building LGBTQ resources ‘across the city’
The election further diversified the LGBT Caucus in terms of gender, race and ethnicity, as well as the parts of the city they represent, incorporating more of the South and West sides.
Manaa-Hoppenworth is the first openly queer Asian-American councilor and the first Filipino on the city council. She takes over for retiring Ald. Harry Osterman, representing Uptown and Edgewater.
“I’m really proud to be a part of the Asian-American community that has rallied behind me across the globe,” Manaa-Hoppenworth said. “The LGBTQ community crosses race, class, ethnicity and wards, so it’s exciting to be part of a city council that reflects that.”
Robinson is the first black, openly gay man on the city council. He takes over for Ald. Sophia King, representing parts of the South Loop, Bronzeville, Kenwood and Hyde Park.
Robinson said he wanted to work closely with Hadden, the first queer black mayor, to “be the voice that the queer black community needs on the City Council.” Hadden’s ward includes Rogers Park and the Far North Side.
As a state representative, Robinson helped secure $15 million in funding for black-led organizations tackling HIV and $15 million in state funding for Howard Brown Health to build a South Side LGBTQ center.
“The black LGBTQ community still faces high unemployment rates, HIV and housing instability, so those are all issues that I want to be able to work on,” Robinson said.
Fuentes joins Lopez, Ramirez-Rosa and Rodriguez-Sanchez as the LGBT Caucus’s fourth Latinx member. Her 26th Ward includes Humboldt Park and parts of Logan Square, Hermosa, West Humboldt Park and West Town.
“This allows us to think about the types of institutions and spaces that we need to build across the entire city,” Fuentes said. “When we think of safe places for LGBTQIA+ members, we often think of Boystown, but [the LGBT Caucus’] broad geographic representation encourages us to think about how we build such spaces in all our communities.”
Lopez, who had been the only gay councilor south of North Avenue, said he agrees that the broader diversity of the LGBT Caucus can “raise the awareness that there is LGBTQ life outside of Boystown.”
Issues like LGBTQ community relations with police need to be tackled from a citywide lens now, instead of acting “like LGBTQ police officers are just for the Wrigleyville district,” Lopez said.
North Side LGBTQ organizations also need to work to reach people on the South and West sides, Lopez said.
“You can’t just say anymore that LGBTQ issues are just a North Side thing,” Lopez said.
Lawson, whose department represents the Northalsted LGBTQ district with the Center for Halsted and Howard Brown Health, said he would prioritize making sure social services for LGBTQ people are available everywhere.
“We need to work together to take the services that I host in Lakeview that are welcoming, affirming and culturally competent and make sure people have access to them throughout the city,” Lawson said. “Having a council that is truly citywide and multiracial will help with that mission.”
Knudsen, who founded a pro bono practice at his law firm to represent LGBTQ asylum seekers before joining the City Council, also said he hopes to work with the other aldermen on immigration-related issues.
Another wave of migrants from Central and South America is being transported to the city from Texas, increasing the need for more housing, resources and services to help them.
“I really want to lean substantively into how we can make the process for asylum and the transition to Chicago life easier,” Knudsen said. “We are a sanctuary for immigrants, but I have lots of stories of people who have applied for asylum and still can’t get here.”
While many of the aldermen see eye to eye on some initial priorities, the new LGBT Caucus has ideological differences that could pose challenges when working together, Lopez said.
“We run the political scale here, probably with me the furthest to the right of anyone in the group,” Lopez said. “We are a reflection of the larger LGBTQ community, and if we want to show people what it means to lead in love, that will be the challenge for all nine members.”
How will the new mayor implement his LGBTQ platform?
Many of the LGBT Caucus members rallied behind Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson throughout his campaign, and the nine aldermen said those connections will help them enact policies that strengthen Chicago’s reputation as a welcoming city for LGBTQ people.
Hadden, Fuentes, Manaa-Hoppenworth, Ramirez-Rosa and Rodriguez-Sanchez endorsed Johnson and praised the candidate’s LGBTQ platform during a press conference in March that condemned challenger Paul Vallas.
Lawson, Tunney’s longtime chief of staff, followed in the outgoing councilman’s footsteps by endorsing Vallas, as did Lopez. Knudsen and Robinson did not endorse a candidate.
“Many of Brandon Johnson’s supporters have already been caucus stalwarts and active in raising LGBT issues,” Lawson said. “I think their support for Johnson will be a definite benefit to the work we do on the council.”
Ramirez-Rosa, one of Johnson’s staunchest supporters, said the caucus should meet early to decide what issues its members want to prioritize. He also said the caucus could work with Johnson to pass the LGBTQ agenda he campaigned on.
“Mayor-elect Johnson ran on a bold platform that had a very robust policy agenda for the LGBTQ community that was created with the support and input of LGBTQ leaders, so I’m really excited to see him move forward with that agenda,” Ramirez – said Rosa.
Johnson’s platform emphasized the wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation across the country and pledged to further invest in Chicago as a “regional hub for LGBTQ community and culture.”
At the top of Johnson’s plan is a pledge to protect LGBTQ people by ensuring hate crimes are fully investigated and addressing multiple murders of transgender people in Chicago, which have been on the rise in recent years, according to data collected by the Human Rights Campaign .
Several aldermen singled out the murders of trans women of color as one of the most important issues Chicago needs to address. More than a dozen trans women of color have been killed in Chicago since 2010, according to a recent Tribune analysis. Of this, only a small percentage of their murders have been solved.
“That violence is happening with impunity and it has to stop,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “Protecting trans women, especially trans black women, must be at the top of the list.”
Part of this work is preventative, Johnson said during a March fundraiser at Sidetrack in Northalsted. The city can protect transgender people by making sure they are affirmed and have access to mental health, housing and other supportive services, he said.
Manaa-Hoppenworth said ensuring transgender people have stable jobs is also crucial. Her department includes the Chicago Therapy Collective, a nonprofit organization that launched the Hire Trans Now initiative to promote transgender inclusion in work opportunities. Hire Trans Now was also listed on Johnson’s LGBTQ Rights platform.
“I am so proud that the Chicago Therapy Collective’s Hire Trans Now initiative is being pushed to the city level,” said Manaa-Hoppenworth. “But it can’t stop there. We have to keep going and make sure transgender people are infused in all the things we do.”
Rodriguez-Sanchez, who worked on the Bodily Autonomy Sanctuary Ordinance aimed at protecting people who come from other states to get an abortion, said she hopes to work with the LGBT Caucus to continue passing legislation , strengthening Chicago as a safe place for vulnerable people.
“The context of this executive order was the reversal of Roe v. Wade, but it was also a response to all these transphobic laws being passed around the country to prevent gender-affirming care,” Rodriguez-Sanchez said. “I think it will be part of our agenda to do things like this.”
Hadden said she expects LGB aldermen to work to establish Chicago as a model for other cities that want to protect LGBTQ people.
“As with the bodily autonomy ordinance, we will need to be encouraged to continue to affirm Chicago as a safe place to have a continued positive impact on policy,” Hadden said.
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