Emanuel promises LGBT community he’ll fight for rights
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter January 28, 2011 1:02PM
Rahm Emanuel speaks at the Center on Halsted. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times
Updated: April 30, 2011 4:47AM
Mayoral challenger Rahm Emanuel on Friday showcased his broad support in the gay community — and promised to return the favor by pressuring the Illinois General Assembly to approve gay marriage and extend pension benefits to domestic partners.
“I’d like to see the city move on that,” Emanuel said of the pension benefits denied to live-in partners of gay and lesbian city employees. Although the Illinois General Assembly has “made landmark history” by authorizing civil unions, Emanuel said, “The march goes on to [gay] marriage.”
Over the years, Mayor Daley emerged as a champion on gay and lesbian issues. He engineered $5.4 million in loans and subsidies for the Center on Halsted, the Midwest’s first permanent community center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Daley appointed gay department heads and Chicago’s first openly gay alderman and extended health benefits to registered live-in partners of gay and lesbian city employees. He welcomed the 2006 Gay Games, increased city support for AIDS funding and established the LGBT Hall of Fame.
On Friday, Emanuel promised to build on the legacy of his political mentor — by securing pension benefits, championing gay marriage, mandating diversity training for police officers and firefighters and “changing the culture” that tolerates bullying against gay students in the Chicago Public Schools. His three major rivals — Gery Chico, Carol Moseley Braun and Miguel del Valle — have all made similar claims.
Emanuel outlined his gay agenda promises after getting a hero’s welcome at the Center on Halsted built with help from a $1.25 million federal earmark that he helped secure during his days in Congress.
Gay rights activists who helped elect President Obama once held the former White House chief-of-staff responsible for initially ignoring their agenda. But now that the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy has been repealed, all is apparently forgiven.
“Over 200 members ... joined the LGBT Committee for Rahm. ... That suggests to me that there is no real residual concern or blame assignment going on with respect to, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” said Robert Kohl, co-founder of the Center on Halsted. “There may have been frustration that it didn’t happen quickly enough. In our community, there’s always frustration that so many things don’t happen quickly enough. But nothing happens at all if we don’t have champions in government and we have an excellent champion in Rahm Emanuel.”
Emanuel touted his support as chief of staff for an executive order securing hospital visitation rights for gay and lesbian couples — even as he acknowledged that it took too long.
“It shouldn’t have been six months, but it was,” he said.
The LGBT Committee for Rahm has scheduled a Feb. 11 fund-raiser for Emanuel, who has already raised nearly $12 million for his mayoral campaign. The group also plans to provide foot soldiers to help get out the vote for Emanuel, beginning Monday, when the 18-day period for early voting begins.