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Lori Lightfoot on Defending the LGBTQ+ Community Against Republican Attacks

Lori Lightfoot on Defending the LGBTQ+ Community Against Republican Attacks

Lori Lightfoot and her wife, Amy Eshleman

The former Chicago mayor says she understands the strategy Republicans are using and that it’s a losing one.

Former Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot understands the impact of representation and how her leadership role has inspired young people in the LGBTQ+ community. The positive impact being a role model for queer and trans people has had on their lives inspires her, she says.

“I learned really early on — certainly when I was campaigning the first time, but [absolutely] once I got into office — about the power of me being in the position that I was in and the impact it had on our community writ large,” Lightfoot tells The Advocate. “I think there were high hopes and expectations, which hopefully I was able to fulfill.”

She adds, “The way that it resonated for me is a number of parents who came to me, pulled me aside at an event [and] whispered in my ear, ‘my son, my daughter, has just come out as queer, as trans, and thank you for being a role model.’”

Lightfoot notes that Republicans’ culture war battles, particularly those targeting minority groups, take a page from the old GOP Southern strategy anti-civil rights playbook to divide and conquer. She says the right’s effort elevates the importance of the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. It also emphasizes the need for allies and the urgency to solve the challenges faced by the trans community, she says.

“It started with Nixon back in the day, and they’re just adding chapters,” Lightfoot explains. “But it’s the same playbook, which is divide and conquer. Focus on somebody or some issue that you think is a wedge that can’t speak up for themselves and then use that to divide people but also, frankly, to get them to vote against their own best interests.”

She says economically, it makes no sense for state legislatures to spew forth the level of hatred with which Republicans target the trans community.

“We are not going to step back as a community,” she says. “We are just not going to do that. And we have many more tools now than we’ve ever had to fight the hate.”

She says that excellent advocacy groups like Lambda Legal and others who work on powerful litigation exist as a bulwark against the stripping of rights.

“We are not just going to sit down and take it and be fearful,” she says. “That’s not where we are in the arc of our history. However, we need to make sure that we’re unmasking them wherever it happens and being proactive and doing that work.”

She notes that Republican-dominated legislatures will be judged harshly by history.

“There’s a through line between the fight to take away women’s bodily autonomy and the fights that we’re facing specific to our community and particularly our trans siblings. They’re connected,” she says.

“There’s a reason why Clarence Thomas wrote that concurring opinion [in the Dobbs case], giving the road map to deconstruct all the rights we have earned and have lived with since Roe, right? The right to privacy is the legal underpinning for so many of the things that benefit our community. So in some ways, it’s not different than what we’ve seen, but the fact that they’re viciously going after children and families and criminalizing being. Just being is now a crime. Living your authentic life is now something that subjects you to villainy under state law. There’s no way that that can be constitutional.”

She says that what is alarming are federal court decisions that promote far-right ideology.

"We all fear what’s happening in the federal courts because they’ve stocked the federal courts from the trial court to the appellate court and now the Supreme Court with people who are more than willing to strip us of our rights and our dignity and don’t see us.”

She adds, “I’d like to remain optimistic and think this is a cycle that will evolve. It’s not a permanent state of being but a frightening time.”

She says that as a high-profile member of the LGBTQ+ community and as an out lesbian, she’s familiar with the vitriol spewed by those on the right.

“Those are real and unfortunately continue to this day,” she says. “So what we need to do is not just take it; we need to fight back. But we also need our allies to stand with us, arm and arm. That’s a big reason why, aside from, I think, the legal nexus between us and the fight over bodily autonomy, we have to have allies, and we’ve got to push our allies to stand up and fight back and not be silent in the face of these specific targeted actions to vilify us and take away our hard-fought legal gains.”

Pictured: Lightfoot and her wife, Amy Eshleman

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