Lori Lightfoot is one of The Advocate's Women of the Year. View the full list from the current issue of the magazine.
Lori Lightfoot made history in 2019 by being elected the first out LGBTQ mayor of Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city. Lightfoot is not only the first lesbian to hold the post, but she’s also the first African-American woman to do so.
Chicago previously had one female mayor, Jane Byrne, a white woman; and two Black male mayors, Harold Washington and Eugene Sawyer. Lightfoot’s race itself was history-making. After a plethora of candidates vied to succeed Rahm Emanuel, who did not seek reelection, it came down to a runoff between two Black women, Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Lightfoot won in a landslide.
She faced down homophobia during the race, as anti-LGBTQ fliers were circulated in some neighborhoods. She’s continued to stand up for our community in office. Earlier this year, some City Council members wondered if a proposal to set aside a portion of city contracts for LGBTQ-owned businesses would result in more fraud. Lightfoot told the council that “as a Black gay woman proud on all fronts,” she was “disturbed” by the nature of the discussion.
Running any major city is complicated, and Chicago in particular has a reputation for rough-and-tumble politics. In her first year in office, Lightfoot has met those challenges head-on; she settled a teachers’ strike, got a budget passed by a wide majority, and fired the city’s police superintendent. While she has her critics, she has won praise as well. Crain’s Chicago Business columnist Greg Hinz wrote late last year that Lightfoot’s performance to date was “mixed,” as “Team Lightfoot still is gaining its policy footing.” But he applauded “her insistence on involving everybody in the discussions and her sheer affability as a person,” explaining, “It’s hard not to like a mayor who publicly celebrates 39-11 passage of her budget by waving around a cigar and declaring she can’t wait to get home and pair it with a little Scotch.”
Lightfoot was a lawyer and longtime community activist before becoming mayor. Notably, she served on a police oversight board that delivered a scathing report on misconduct by law enforcement. Police reform remains one of her priorities, and she has proposed an ordinance providing for more civilian review over law enforcement. Another of her goals is spreading prosperity throughout the city.
“Chicago is an incredibly great city, but it was clear to me that greatness wasn’t being spread to all our neighborhoods,” she told The Advocate last year about why she decided to run for mayor. She is also very cognizant of the significance of her identity and recognizes those who paved the way for her.
“I am deeply honored and proud to not only be Chicago’s first African-American female mayor, but the first openly gay mayor of Chicago,” she says now. “It’s not lost on me that my achievements rest on the shoulders of the great women, great LGBTQ+ members, and great African-Americans before me. I hope that my story inspires other African-American women and members of the LGBTQ+ community everywhere and shows what can be achieved by organizing and working together, tirelessly and fearlessly, to break through barriers and achieve our dreams.”