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Hero tops list in gay-marriage effort

Tracy Baim | SandrGuy/Sun-Times

Tracy Baim | Sandra Guy/Sun-Times

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Updated: December 12, 2013 6:16AM

Next year, same-sex marriage will become legal in Illinois. Many heroes made it happen, but Tracy Baim tops my list.

Little known outside LGBT circles, Baim is the founder, publisher and executive editor at Windy City Media Group, which produces Windy City Times and other gay media outlets. Windy City is one of the most influential LGBT institutions in America. Baim, a lesbian, is a veteran journalist, author, producer and astute observer of LGBT politics and history. She is also an unapologetically activist journalist who wields power through her keyboard.

On May 31 the marriage bill crashed and burned at the Illinois House when State Rep. Greg Harris declined to call the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act for a vote. Harris, its chief sponsor and an openly gay legislator, said he didn’t have enough support.

Baim excoriated Harris in an editorial, demanding that he “step aside.” She wrote: “His arrogance and close-to-the-vest approach on an issue that impacts hundreds of thousands of people in this state is unconscionable — and unparalleled in our community’s history.”

The piece triggered a fiery tumult of blame-gaming and recriminations in the LGBT community. Three days after it ran, Baim and Harris met and agreed to put aside their differences on strategy and tactics.

A pivotal idea surfaced, Baim recalled last week after the marriage victory. “If thousands of people had shown up in Springfield in May,” she asked Harris, “would that have made a difference?’

“He said ‘yes.’ ”

There had never been a major LGBT march in Springfield. Many told her it could not be done.

Baim recruited 13 co-chairs to lead a diverse and deeply grass-roots coalition. On Oct. 22, thousands turned out at the state capital. They made thousands of phone calls. The Windy City Times exhorted them on. It was a one-two punch, in parallel with Illinois Unites for Marriage, the mainstream statewide coalition that was also pushing the bill.

Baim made the difference, Kit Duffy told me in an email. “Tracy was busy organizing among youth, blacks, Latinos and women here and across the state culminating in the march last week, which visually demonstrated that the bill was not an exclusively Boys Town issue. The legislation could no longer be seen as politically marginal,” wrote Duffy, the savvy political strategist who served as Mayor Harold Washington’s liaison to the gay and lesbian community.

“Eighty percent of the people who showed up at the march had never even been to Springfield before,” Baim says. “It was not just the radicals, but in actuality it was a lot of the more conservative folks, the churchgoing folks, and the high schools and the colleges, they all showed up.” Baim notes. “And they felt very empowered.”

They swarmed the lawmakers’ offices, demanding matrimonial equity. The effort kept key elected officials like Harris accountable, while also helping them make the case.

“I applaud Greg and I applaud everybody that worked on this together,” Baim said. She hopes her coalition will hang on to fight again, on other causes like immigration, education and community violence.

Leave it to the women. We get things done.


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