By Aisha N. Davis
Yesterday, Chicago history was made as Lori Lightfoot was elected mayor. As the first Black woman elected to lead Chicago, and the first openly queer person to campaign for mayor, Lightfoot had already written a few new lines in Chicago’s history.
Indeed, she acknowledged the foundation that was laid before her during her victory speech last night: “One day, you will stand on my shoulders, as I stand on the shoulders of so many: The shoulders of strong Black women, like Ida B. Wells, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Annie Ruth Lowery. The shoulders of LGBTQ-plus trailblazers, like Dr. Ron Sable, Vernita Gray, and Art Johnston. And the shoulders of political giants, like the late, great Harold Washington.”
In addition to tipping a hat to her political predecessors, Mayor-elect Lightfoot spoke directly to the LGBTQ community last National Coming Out Day when she unveiled her LGBTQ policy agenda. Notably, then-candidate Lightfoot made numerous pledges to the LGBTQ community of Chicago: working toward establishing 24-hour drop-in centers to provide space for young LGBTQ people experiencing housing insecurity; implementing LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum in Chicago Public Schools; appointing three mayoral LGBTQ liaisons to work on the South, West, and North sides; Chicago Police Department training to prevent police profiling of transgender people, prevent violence and hate crimes against trans people, and thoroughly investigating crimes against trans people; and, helping Illinois get to zero new HIV diagnoses in the next decade.
Each of these promises to Chicago’s LGBTQ community presents an opportunity for Mayor-elect Lightfoot to not only improve the overall livelihoods of our community, but also would vastly improve the health outcomes of many of our most vulnerable community members.
Here at Howard Brown Health, many of these goals align with the work that we have begun and continue to accomplish across the city. Specifically, the mayor-elect’s priority of providing safe spaces for LGBTQ youth directly align with the space that we have created at the Broadway Youth Center – and we agree that young people should feel secure in knowing that there are spaces where they can not only receive services, but can also know that these services are available in a welcoming environment.
Additionally, Howard Brown is a member of Illinois’ Getting to Zero initiative and hopes to not only eliminate new HIV diagnoses, but seeks to ensure that all people living with HIV are connected to care and resources.
There are also numerous areas for alignment between Howard Brown and the incoming administration. Like Mayor-elect Lightfoot, Howard Brown knows that there is room for growth within the existing healthcare, education, and law enforcement systems to improve the lives of every part of our community.
Now, more than ever, we are working to ensure that our community has access to the resources and care they need. In light of the current attacks on the Affordable Care Act, it is more important than ever that we know we have a champion in the Mayor’s office who will not allow thousands of Chicagoans to lose access to healthcare – including gender-affirming healthcare and sexual and reproductive services. For example, without the current Medicaid expansion under the ACA, Chicagoans living with HIV may lose access to life-saving medication.
When considering education and safety in schools, Howard Brown plans to continue to collaborate with Chicago Public Schools to provide LGBTQ-inclusive education that reduces stigma and promotes healthier choices for young people. And when thinking of the relationship between the Chicago Police Department and Chicago’s communities of color – especially Transgender and gender non-conforming people – Howard Brown looks forward to new initiatives and efforts that encourage awareness, understanding, and respect.
This is particularly relevant with the violence that Black and Latinx trans women face in Chicago and across the country. As a community, we know that gun violence prevention and responsible policing require a push from the city to build genuine inroads with communities that have been stereotyped and disproportionately poorly protected and/or over-policed.
Following this election, Chicago is uniquely poised to enter a new political era where our mayor stands with her constituents across the city.
Howard Brown’s President and CEO David Ernesto Munar feels hopeful about the future under the mayor-elect: “This election is already historic because of who Lori Lightfoot is and the hope she has inspired in every ward across our great city. Her administration has the potential to mold a better future for LGBTQ people and our allies by investing in Chicago’s diverse and under-resourced neighborhoods. For example, we hope to see City Hall invest in long neglected city-run facilities providing essential community health and social services. Locations like the Englewood Neighborhood Health Clinic, which houses Howard Brown Health 63rd, Miles Square Health Center, Chicago Torture Justice Center, and other tenants, are poised to serve as critical hubs for community empowerment. Investments to make this location and others like it modern, welcoming, and suitable for the hard work of community transformation can be a catalyst for change across our city.”
Only the future can tell how much progress will be made during Mayor-elect Lighfoot’s tenure. Howard Brown stands ready to lend support to the administration to secure better health outcomes for all Chicagoans.
Aisha N. Davis, Esq., Howard Brown Health’s Manager of Policy & Advocacy, works with patients, staff, Board members, and community stakeholders to advance sound public health policy designed to improve the health and lives of LGBTQ people and our allies.