Lori Lightfoot has made history by becoming the first Black woman to become mayor of Chicago as well as the first openly gay person. And across the country, this news has been heralded as a victory for queer communities everywhere.
However for many in Chicago — especially those who are Black or Brown — these celebrations ring hollow and feel like active erasure of the tremendous organizing labor against a candidate who is so similar to a predecessor we fought so hard to push out.
Where outsiders see a political newcomer, we see an adversary with whom we have been actively entangled for years. Where the misinformed see a progressive, we see a figure with strong ties to the Chicago machine’s most repressive elements and a long track record of doing harm to the very communities she claims to represent.
And where many see this as an exciting beacon of potential change as Lightfoot’s profile skyrockets, we see a new barrier to liberation, one that we will likely face without the support of those who helped to place it in our way.
Lightfoot is a longtime corporate lawyer and prosecutor, known for representing right-wing conglomerates and defending police against misconduct charges. Previous to being elected mayor, she was appointed to every position in public office she’s held, first by Mayor Richard M. Daley and then Rahm Emanuel.
As chair of Emanuel’s police oversight committee that reviewed cases of reported police misconduct, she was known to clash with Black families who lost loved ones to police murder. She infamously protected Dante Servin, an off-duty officer who shot and killed 22-year-old Rekia Boyd, from losing his job even after Black queer women and femmes under the #SayHerName banner fought vigorously for accountability for her death.
At a forum at the University of Chicago last month, she suggested that the vacant school buildings left over from Emanuel's massive school closures in almost exclusively Black neighborhoods be converted into police training facilities, in addition to the construction of a new multimillion-dollar police academy on the west side, which she also supports.
And as mayor-elect, she has already stated that she opposes rent control at the city level, while thousands of Black Chicagoans leave every year because they cannot afford the cost of living.
Black queer Chicagoans, especially those who are low-income, don’t merely predict oppressed people will suffer under the Lightfoot administration but know it through her record, which already demonstrates a commitment to gentrification, disinvestment from poor communities of color, and impunity for an ever more militarized police force.
And while Lightfoot won every district in Chicago, her ability to capture the attention and support of the wealthiest sectors of the city was the key to her success.
Those vocally behind her are often typically the most divorced from the daily violence, austerity, and impoverishment that the average Black queer Chicagoan faces — and continue to insist that her election is a representational victory, while ignoring its material consequences.
But such claims serve only to weaponize Black queer identities by those who do not share them for the express purpose of silencing those who do.
White women are not expected to take obligatory pride in the actions of Kellyanne Conway or Betsy DeVos — particularly when they are the direct recipients of their harmful policies. So why are people of color, especially Black women and queers, treated as impertinent when we say Black gay faces in high places are not what we want?
And why are the only Black queer voices deemed worth listening to the ones who parrot white supremacist values, masquerading as change-makers, while defending the system as it stands?
Intersectionality, as coined by Black feminist Kimberle Crenshaw, is not about individual representation but building a broad political analysis for the liberation of the widest possible population. It’s not about celebrating the identities of the powerful but lifting up the voices of those at the margins of the margins.
The most marginalized Black queer Chicagoans are calling for rent control. We are calling for the reopening of our shuttered clinics and schools. We are calling for housing, a living wage, and real sanctuary for undocumented residents. We are calling for the defunding of police, prisons, and other systems of death, and the redistribution of public funds to meet community need.
And now, as Chicago’s first Black lesbian mayor prepares to take office — and the wealthiest parts of this city cheer her on — we wonder who will listen to these dire needs.
Because Lightfoot never has.
Benji Hart is an author, artist, and educator from Amherst, MA, living in Chicago. The writer behind the blog Radical Faggot, their essays have been anthologized in Rebellious Mourning: The Collective Work of Grief (2017) and Taking Sides: Radical Solidarity and the Poverty of Liberalism (2015), both from AK Press. Their writing has been published at Salon, In These Times, Teen Vogue, and other feminist and abolitionist media.