Three ways to boost LGBTQ civil rights in Illinois

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The rainbow gay pride flag was raised along with the City of Chicago flag outside City Hall after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage two years ago. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples had a fundamental right to marry. It was a major victory in the LGBTQ community’s long-standing fight for equality.

But there is still a long way to go when it comes to gaining civil rights protections. Every day LGBTQ people face stigmas, discrimination, harassment and violence. Anti-LGBTQ rhetoric still runs high in politics. Legislatures across the country, most notably in North Carolina and Texas, are trying to make it easier to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

On the other end of the political spectrum, there are three bills in the Illinois Legislature that would tweak existing laws to help bolster the rights of LGBTQ folks. They are entirely sensible bills backed by the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Illinois that we hope will make it to the governor’s desk. He should sign them without hesitation.


A look at the bills:

Vital Records Act amendment: Proposed by Rep. Greg Harris of Chicago, it would allow transgender people to change their birth certificates to reflect their gender identity without going through sexual reassignment surgery. It would be enough if a health-care professional signed a declaration affirming the person has gone through “clinically appropriate” treatment, or a doctor identifies an intersex condition.

Modern medical standards no longer require reassignment surgery to recognize that a person has transitioned. Doctors say there are other medical options. The American Medical Association says medically appropriate treatment includes a combination of mental health care, social transition, hormone therapy and the option of sex reassignment surgery.

Illinois was among the first states to enact a law allowing transgender people to change their birth certificates. But the legislature must update it so it adheres to today’s medical guidelines.

Most of us take for granted that our birth certificates match our identity. An accurate certificate makes it easier to obtain government identification, which we all need to get employment.

Elimination of the gay panic defense: This bill, sponsored by Sen. Dan Biss of Chicago, would explicitly prohibit defendants charged with first- or second-degree murder from using a “gay panic” or “trans panic” defense. These cases do not come along often but shock the senses when they do. Defendants will blame the victims, alleging that a flirtation by a gay or transgender person or the discovery of a person’s sexual orientation drove them to react violently.

“We’re dealing with a community that feels a great deal of insecurity,” Biss told us of his motivation to sponsor the bill. “It’s a real sense of ‘Am I safe, am I at risk of being attacked or assaulted? If I am, will the state stand with me?’ ”

Four years ago, the American Bar Association urged state legislatures “to curtail the availability and effectiveness of the ‘gay panic’ and ‘trans panic’ defenses. This law would do that. It passed in the Senate 41-0 with bipartisan support and awaits action in the House.

Gubernatorial Boards and Commissions Act amendment: This bill, sponsored by Sen. Scott Bennett, a Democrat from Champaign, also has drawn support from Republicans. It would add a box that could be checked if LGBTQ people want to self-identify as such when applying to serve on boards and commissions under the governor. Providing the information would be voluntary.

The governor’s office would be obligated to include the number along with other demographic data it collects in its annual report to the General Assembly.

Many of us have seen such questions on employment forms. We’re asked to volunteer information about our ethnicity, gender or disability status. This measure would help promote the inclusion in the workplace of people with diverse backgrounds.

“We want to make sure everyone in Illinois who has a talent to lend has the opportunity to do so,” Brian C. Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois, told us. “We’re just asking that members of our community be included.”

The measure passed in the Senate 46-4 and is pending in the House.

Just like the proposal to amend the Vital Records Act, this bill makes a small change to the law but helps to make sure LGBTQ folks won’t be left on the sidelines.

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