The only openly gay candidate in the crowded race for mayor on Thursday chose “National Coming Out Day” to lift the veil on her policy agenda for the politically potent LGBTQ community.
If Lori Lightfoot is elected mayor, the Chicago Public Schools would work to establish “24-hour drop in centers” to provide LGBTQ youth now struggling with homelessness places to sleep and lockers to store their belongings.
CPS would also implement an “LGBTQ+-inclusive curriculum” to prevent bullying against students based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.
Lightfoot’s agenda also calls for the appointment of three mayoral LGBTQ liaisons to work directly with the South, West and North sides.
Chicago police officers would get special training to end police profiling of transgender people, prevent violence and hate crimes against them and aggressively investigate those crimes when they do happen.
She would also create a task force to investigate the recent murder of “two trans women of color.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has already joined forces with the state and 10 community organizations and hospitals on an ambitious plan aimed at eliminating new diagnoses of HIV in Illinois over the next decade.
The former Police Board president promised to “ramp up” that eradication campaign while conducting a “detailed study of healthcare outcomes” for LGBTQ Chicagoans.
Lightfoot said the need for 24-hour drop-in centers was crystallized by the heartbreaking stories she heard this week from gay teens, most of them African-Americans, while visiting a North Side drop-in center.
“They don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods. They don’t feel accepted. They have all kinds of encounters with police. And they’re homeless because they’re not being accepted by their families. Many of them are on the street,” Lightfoot said.
“This center that I went to — there were about 20 people there . . . For every one person they help, there are probably four or five that are on the street that don’t have access to services. A significant percentage of the homeless population are LGBTQ. It’s heartbreaking.”
Lightfoot noted the Chicago Police Department has only one LGBTQ liaison for the entire city. That has consequences.
“There are trans women who were killed on the South Side. And members of that community don’t feel like the police department is bringing the level of rigor and resources to investigating those murders that they have in other communities,” she said.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), Chicago’s first openly gay aldermen, acknowledged that homelessness remains a major problem among gay youth.
But he argued that Lakeview has had a 24-hour shelter known as “The Crib” for LGBTQ youth for at least a decade. Chicago can’t afford to duplicate that at public schools, he said.
“It’s pretty expensive to keep a school open all night long. Do I endorse opening public schools at night? Not unless I have the financial impact of what that involves,” Tunney said.
“We have a tough time getting our schools open during [outside regular] school hours because of labor costs and staffing. Any time a school is open, they need to have a skeletal staff there, too.”
Tunney agreed with Lightfoot about the need for an LGBTQ liaison in every one of the city’s 22 police districts, instead of just one in his home Town Hall district.
“There are lesbian and gay people in every neighborhood, and they need to have safe spaces. Not only where they can be themselves, but also where the police are sensitive and more sensitive than they’ve been citywide,” the alderman said.
CPS spokesperson Emily Bolton did not comment on Lightfoot’s proposal to turn schools into 24-hour drop-in centers.
She simply reiterated the school system’s commitment to “creating a safe and welcoming environment for all LGBTQ students through its policies, training, curriculum and partnerships.”
In an emailed statement, Bolton further noted that that the city has received the “highest possible rating from the Human Rights Campaign” for how inclusive laws, policies and services are for LGBTQ residents.
Over the years, former Mayor Richard M. Daley emerged as a champion on gay and lesbian issues. He engineered $5.4 million in loans and subsidies for the Center on Halsted, where a rooftop garden bears the mayor’s name.
Daley also championed gay marriage, appointed Tunney and gay department heads, and extended health benefits to registered live-in partners of gay and lesbian city employees. He welcomed the 2006 Gay Games, increased city support for AIDS funding and established the LGBT Hall of Fame.
Emanuel has matched Daley’s record, in part by appointing an unprecedented number of openly gay men and women to his cabinet.
Lightfoot credited City Hall with coming a long way. But, she said: “There are still many LGBTQ young people who are not accepted, bullied in school and not treated well. We have a lot more work we can do.”