Willie Wilson is coming out. The 2019 mayoral candidate is reaching out, that is, to Chicago’s LGBTQA community.
Tuesday’s media advisory announced: “In honor of World AIDS Day & in the spirit of my message of inclusion, my campaign staff & I will host the ‘LGBTQA Holiday Meet & Greet.’ We are all one human race. Inclusion is the key.”
Wilson, a two-time mayoral aspirant, is best known for his massive cash handouts at needy Chicagoans; not so much for embracing the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and asexual community.
Wilson, 70, is a deeply religious African-American businessman with long ties to conservative black churches, which are known to be hostile to homosexuality and gay rights.
I scurried over to the 42nd floor of the swanky Swissotel, where 70 guests and staff mingled over drinks and hors d’oeuvres, and sang a Christmas carol or two.
Support from the LGBTQA community is a bright, shiny ornament in this crowded mayoral race. Mayor Rahm Emanuel had it locked up; now, his would-be successors are scrambling for it.
The party-goers lined up to take photos with Wilson. The event is “my first step,” to reach out to the community, he told me. “I am trying to learn.”
“I need to make sure that all of the Chicagoland area knows who I am, and I want to get to know who they are too.”
In the past, Wilson has been missing in action on gay issues.
In the 2015 mayoral race, he did not participate in a Windy City Times survey of candidates’ views on gay issues.
During his 2016 presidential race (yes, Wilson ran for president of the United States), he tweeted: “I disagree with what I consider the Supreme Court’s reinterpretation of what constitutes marriage. Marriage has and should always be that sacred union between a man and a woman. Period.”
“I’ve said a lot of things,” he acknowledges now.
Have you have changed your mind about same-sex marriage? I asked.
“Yes. Because everybody is entitled to do whatever they want to do and be with whoever they want to be.”
His “coming up,” he explained, left him ill-equipped to understand gays. He was born to Louisiana sharecroppers, and homosexuality was not popular in the deep South. “Louisiana has never left me. I’m a sharecropper.”
Now, “by reaching out, we all can learn.”
He has tapped Kendrick Robinson, a gay man who works in Wilson’s downtown apartment building, as his volunteer coordinator. The campaign is “focusing on the issues” Robinson said, such as health care, HIV, treatment of transgender women in prison.
“He’s throwing this event, and that’s says a lot in itself,” said Micah Gore, an African-American transgender woman.
“Especially at a time like this, when we have (President Donald J.) Trump in office. These are trying times and someone like Willie being an advocate for us.”
Wilson promises many more “investments” in the community in the run-up to the Feb. 26 election.
His education is a work in progress. As we chatted, he mangled the politically correct acronym, LGBTQA (it is a mouthful).
He listened as I explained the difference between Boystown (the gay haven in Lake View) and Andersonville (known as lesbian territory).
So far, he enjoys no major endorsements from the city’s LGBT leaders or institutions.
He’s got a long way to go to win that vote, and precious little time to get there.
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