Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot received a standing ovation at Wednesday's City Council meeting after objecting strenuously to the homophobic tone of debate on setting aside a portion of city contracts for LGBTQ-owned businesses.
"As a black gay woman proud on all fronts, I have to say I'm disturbed by the nature of the committee discussion [which took place Tuesday] and the nature of the discussion here today," Lightfoot said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. "We need not ask anyone's indulgence, patience, or forgiveness or acceptance to be who we are and who we love."
The city already allocates a portion of contracts for minority- and women-owned businesses. Lightfoot wants to do the same with LGBTQ-owned companies, and the City Council Wednesday approved, by a vote of 47-1, a study on the need for that.
But leading up to the vote, some aldermen voiced concern that such a set-aside would result in fraud, as there is no way to verify someone's sexual orientation. And some Black aldermen contended that an LGBTQ set-aside would primarily benefit white men.
"I think about that movie, the two firemen where they were faking like they were gay, right? I think about that, and they did all those things ... to get benefits," Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. said at Tuesday's meeting of the Committee on Contracting Oversight and Equity, the Chicago Tribune reports. He was apparently referring to the 2007 film I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, starring Adam Sandler and Kevin James.
Burnett and others pointed to a history of fraud in the program for minority business enterprises, such as a lucrative "minority" contract for janitorial services that went to a firm that was actually white-owned during Mayor Richard M. Daley's administration.
But Lightfoot pointed out Wednesday that not all LGBTQ people are white, and that benefiting one group of people doesn't mean harming another.
"My friends, the pie is big enough to slice it in lots of other ways. ... We need not victimize, demonize, and discriminate through our words against anyone else because we are worried about what the size of the pie is going to be for me," she said, according to the Sun-Times.
Lightfoot, the city's first Black female mayor and first lesbian mayor, noted that she heard "offensive, harmful things said in my presence as a black child" and that she continued hearing such statements into her young adulthood, without responding.
"When I was coming out in my 20s, similarly I was worried about how I would be perceived, and I let people say terrible things about gays and lesbians in my presence and I was silent," she said. "I will be silent no more on any issue. When people say and do things that are offensive and racist, I feel I have an obligation to speak, and so I am."
Others objected to the tone of the debate as well. Ald. Maria Hadden, the only Black lesbian on the council, said she didn't know whether to laugh or be angry at the Chuck & Larry reference. "We've got to do better, you guys," she told her council colleagues. "Being afraid is never an excuse."
Jonathan D. Lovitz, vice president of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, said his organization has seen no fraud of that sort in certifying businesses as LGBTQ-owned. "There's a reason that movie made zero dollars, because everyone knew that was a preposterous, ridiculous idea," he said of Chuck & Larry.
The resolution approved Wednesday orders the city's chief procurement officer to "gather all relevant data that may assist the city in determining the need for a citywide program to promote opportunities in city procurement for LGBTBEs," that is, LGBT business enterprises, with a report to be delivered to the mayor by September 23. It also calls for technical assistance and training programs to help these businesses "increase the potential for successful bidding on city projects."
Lightfoot closed her remarks to the council with an admonition, the Tribune reports. "Our children are watching," she said. "Please choose your words carefully in this body. We are leaders. People look to us. They will take our word seriously, as they should, and I will just say be careful in how you express yourself. Of course, ask questions, that's what a deliberative body does, but do it in a way that doesn't demonize or victimize anyone else."