Phil Reese

Have we squandered our moment in Illinois?

Filed By Phil Reese | July 25, 2010 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Bill Brady, Illinois, marriage equality, same-sex marriage

I'm here at Netroot Nations in Las Vegas this weekend, learning about strategies and tactics on organizing in the Progressive field. Thumbnail image for RightsOrRevolution.jpgProgressives are still excited, we're still fired up, and we still have the right plans and the right ideas. However, there is a bit of a fear in the movement. There is a fear that the left's sails are falling still as the winds of 2006 and 2008 have died down. We frankly don't know if our solutions to the problems in America are being drowned out by the noisy din of the Tea Party.

I too am nervous about squandering a moment. In Illinois, our Governor's race is becoming a nail-biting, toxic and heartbreaking fight that has LGBT rights on the line. Though Governor Quinn is not where the LGBT Equality movement would want him to be on everything--publicly he has distressingly missed some opportunities to encourage marriage equality, and many question his enthusiasm on our issues.

That said, whatever his shortcomings on the LGBT slate, we can be sure he would fight an effort to repeal hard-won employment protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. We can be sure he would sign a civil unions bill if passed by the legislature. We can be sure he would sign a marriage bill (regardless of his reluctance to speak out in support of one) if passed by the legislature.

We know Bill Brady won't.

We are losing our chance to pass a relationship recognition bill for another four years. Time is running out on passing this vital legislation--not just for this year, but for the next half decade. Think about it, if our legislature does not pass a relationship recognition bill this year--and Governor Quinn loses his reelection--we'll be looking at 2015 before we can even think about a relationship recognition bill again.

This is a very real problem as the reelection campaign has been stumbling in the face of a toxic and deceptive campaign being mounted by Illinois' biggest anti-gay bigot, Bill Brady.

A Gathering Storm. No Really.

Bill Brady's election would be the single worst set-back for LGBT Illinoisans' rights in a long time. Lost not only would be the possibility of having our relationships recognized; up to the chopping block would be gender identity and sexual orientation employment and accommodation protections, now law in Illinois. Bill Brady fought hard in the Assembly against these protections, and when he moved to the state Senate, he tried to reverse these popular and vital protections by using tactics so sneaky and underhanded, that Equality Illinois wasn't even aware of what was happening when the story broke.

I know this. I broke it.

When it comes to relationship recognition, we have not seen the legislature move for six , despite our hard work as activists and citizens.

Lack of Courage

Our leaders, however, have not been pushing for a vote, only support. We've been stroking the egos of our "allies," hoping that they don't suddenly shift in the wind when we need them most. To start with, the fact that the possibility always existed that "allies" like John D'Amico would throw us under the bus should have tipped off LGBT leaders that these are not real allies.

Leaders have been concerned about holding a vote and losing. Why would we lose? We have a solid Democratic majority in both houses. This is not in danger. It was never in danger. The Democratic party of Illinois knows that it relies on the LGBT community in the state. They speak positively about the LGBT community, but ultimately, we're taken for granted. If the party supports LGBT equality in theory, but candidates can't commit, this is a leadership problem, not a problem with the Conservatism of local communities. After all, the state party is on the record supporting LGBT equality, and yet folks in Carbondale are not fleeing.

The only reason that we would lose is that the party leadership is not doing education with the legislators. This should worry us.

Leaders in our state movement have been avoiding making waves in the Democratic party, and this is a problem. They also know where their bread is buttered. The relationship with the Democratic party pays the salaries at the state organizations, and this cross pollination is toxic for us.

The Democratic party relies on the massive LGBT community in this state for fiscal support and campaign infrastructure, but we behave as if we need them. We behave like this, because the big orgs tell us to behave and fall in line. 'We need them, so shut up and just do what you're told.' Oh, also pay up.

They need us more than they'll ever admit--why don't we leverage that?

We do need them--we need them to make good on their promises of support--but we should not act servile to the public servants.

Everyone knows that the Democratic machine in Illinois desperately needs a housecleaning. Sure the party is not as bad as Republicans make it out to be, but we've got a massive organization that is built on a continuous and circular stroking of egos.

Our LGBT leadership in the state has become too complicit in this. They want to do what is right, but they've drank so much of the Kool Aide they think 'what is right' is continuing to unconditionally support incumbents who promise to back our legislation, but don't make good.

Now we're in a predicament: we've played the game and followed the orders for a decade, and now we are about to lose it all.

We ought to be angry with our lawmakers, our leaders and ourselves--all of us equally--for refusing to be bold, to be brave. We should not apologize for the inadequacy of others any longer. We should not apologize for being who we are, and pointing out that this is an injustice that is not being alleviated.

I still hold out hope that our lawmakers--seeing this as a potential to build a real legacy for themselves, rather than just a war chest--will make the right decision on the bill and pass it. There is still time, but we need to be emotionally prepared to be thrown under the bus yet again, and if we are, we need to be ready to recover quickly and begin work removing those ineffective or two-faced lawmakers in the primaries for the next four years, and replacing them with either openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender candidates or braver, more committed allies not willing to bargain our lives and rights away for the sake of their pet projects.

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With marriage equality taking root in neighboring Iowa and with at least state-wide domestic partnership legislation in place in Wisconsin, the fact that Illinois does not offer a shred of relationship recognition to gay couples is inexcusable and infuriating. It becomes even more so when you consider that the Democrats--our supposed friends--control the Legislature and have the Governorship. There is no excuse for the years in which this majority has done nothing, nothing, nothing for gay and lesbian families. Nor have those in power proposed any time line for change. Instead it is the usual "donate to and vote for us because the Republicans are worse." That is a low bar for achievement and not a terribly persuasive pitch. I met earlier this year with my State Senator, who is considered one of the most liberal in the state and most gay-friendly and was struck by his lack of passion for and urgency as to our issues. Bill Brady is certainly a bigoted disaster, but the somnambulent shell of a human being that is Pat Quinn doesn't seem capable of delivering anything and for some reason Michael Madigan's legislature doesn't see us as a constituency worth serving. I agree with you that a huge shake up is necessary to move Illinois forward toward equality.