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Dem Candidates for Illinois Gov. Spar Over Who's Most LGBT-Friendly

gubernatorial forum

Illinois -- a state with no shortage of problems, from violence to budget impasses -- has five LGBT-friendly Democrats vying to lead it.

The five Democratic candidates for governor of Illinois met for the first-ever forum for statewide candidates focusing on LGBTQ issues at the Second Presbyterian Church in Chicago's South Loop neighborhood Thursday evening.

State Sen. Daniel Biss, Madison County Superintendent of Schools Bob Daiber, anti-violence activist Tio Hardiman, businessman Chris Kennedy and businessman J.B. Pritzker participated. Equality Illinois CEO Brian C. Johnson moderated. The event was hosted by Equality Illinois, the Pride Action Tank, the Association of Latino/as Motivating Action Chicago, and Affinity Community Services and was streamed to locations across the state.

Illinois's ignoble fiscal issues were a constant presence throughout the evening -- the state recently went two years without a budget -- and Republican governor Bruce Rauner was a frequent target of the candidates' derision and ire.

The first question asked about each candidate's prior support for the LGBTQ community and how LGBTQ Illinoisans lives would improve under his administration. Pritzker, whose family has a long record of support for institutions around Chicago and for Democratic Party causes, pointed to his own participation in early Pride marches, hosting of a same-sex marriage two decades ago, and financial support for early LGBTQ officeholders.

Biss, a mathematician whose district includes Chicago's wealthy North Shore suburbs, spoke of his legislation to ban conversion therapy and the "gay panic" defense. He promised an equal rights amendment including LGBTQ people to the Illinois constitution and universal heathcare. Kennedy, the former president of Chicago's Merchandise Mart and son of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, said that he and his wife had chosen a Catholic parish with an openly gay priest and mentioned his own philanthropy. Daiber, from the Metro East suburbs of St. Louis and the only candidate from downstate Illinois, spoke of being the first and only regional superintendent to hold a summit on transgender students' rights.

In response to a question about expanding access to healthcare, Biss recalled his sponsorship of a bill to provide access to PrEP before assailing the budgetary cuts over which Gov. Rauner had presided. Pritzker echoed these sentiments and brought up his support for a progressive income tax, which all candidates propose. (Illinois is one of eight states with a flat income tax.) Kennedy was the only candidate who mentioned Obamacare in his response and expressed dissatisfaction about half of Chicago's mental health clinics closing due to the state budget impasse. Hardiman, who said that his brother had died of AIDS, wanted the state to do more public education about "protection." Daiber talked about wanting to expand community health centers.

The discussion then turned to the issue of LGBTQ youth overrepresentation in juvenile detention. Kennedy said that poverty and race had been effectively criminalized and called for more sensitivity training and community policing, though he did not give policy specifics. Biss echoed these sentiments. Pritzker recalled his funding for a Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University's law school that bears his family name and of his support for legislation that expunges juveniles' criminal records after two years. Daiber called for a large-scale review of juvenile justice on an institutional level and promised to include LGBTQ perspectives in so doing.

When asked what he would do as governor for LGBTQ youth, Kennedy aluded to Illinois's less-than-stellar contemporary national reputation, saying, "We want that parents to think, 'Oh, yeah, I'm so lucky to live in Illinois.' There are other states that are much more inclusive in grade or high school." Pritzker spoke of wanting to advocate for children across Illinois, not just in Chicagoland, and said he would direct the Illinois State Board of Education to set guidelines for schools and for the state government to enforce them. Biss again recalled his support for an equal rights amendment and for Illinois state forms to not include the gender binary.

In a lightning round of questions, all candidates promised to hire qualified trans staffers, hire LGBQT people to senior positions, and appoint openly LGBTQ people to state boards.

Regarding LGBTQ housing discrimination, especially for seniors, Daiber proposed that applications for business regarding real estate, community property or rentals require no gender identification. Pritzker proposed a higher minimum wage to attract better applicants for caregiving positions and to improve their training, especially as it pertains to LGBT patients. He also wants to expand funding for home care programs. Biss said he wants to strengthen and toughen anti-discrimination laws and provide better wages and training to caregivers.

The candidates were then asked about how they would protect the LGBTQ immigrant community. Daiber said he supported Illinois being a sanctuary state and Chicago a sanctuary city. Hardiman said he supported a pathway-to-citizenship, something Kennedy also said he supported, adding that he could pressure Illinois' congressional delegation to support it. Pritzker and Biss both vowed to strengthen the Illinois Trust Act, which limits local police involvement with federal immigration authorities. Biss also proposed that undocumented people be covered under a single-payer health insurance program.

The last question was about LGBTQ youth homelessness. Biss and Daiber gave more detailed answers: Biss attacked the budget-related cuts and set the goal of actually ending homelessness in Illinois, through a removal of Chicago's ban on rent control and a progressive income tax. Daimer discussed the difficulty in addressing this topic in rural areas, as they are more difficult to service because of their lower population density.

In closing statements, Biss spoke of the needs of intersectional LGBTQ people. Generally seen as one of the three top candidates, alongside Pritzker and Kennedy, he urged voters to not allow the election to be an auction, a jab at the deep-pocketed other two alongside Gov. Rauner, whose combined net worth is in the billions. Kennedy said, "It's time for us all to gather and stop the slaughter in this city and to stop the oppression of Bruce Rauner." Daiber talked of overcoming the divisions between Chicagoland and the rest of the state and reiterated his support for an equal rights amendment and a progressive income tax. Pritzker encouraged people to consider his previous LGBTQ rights work and who will most likely be able to beat Governor Rauner.

In closing, moderator Brian C. Johnson reminded the candidates of the pervasiveness of the LGBTQ community: "We live in every ward in this city. We live in every county in this state."

The Illinois gubernatorial primaries occur March 20, 2018 and the gubernatorial election will be held November 6.

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