Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood ( D-14 ) and actor Theo Germaine were among those headlining HRC’s annual gala the evening of Nov. 16 at the Fairmont Hotel downtown.
The sold-out event also featured remarks from the national organization’s newly-installed president, Alphonso David, who outlined new social-justice and LGBT advocacy initiatives HRC will undertake in the year ahead.
David read the names of the known transgender or gender nonconforming individuals who have been murdered this year, noting that the safety and liberty of transgender persons—especially those who are persons of color—are especially fraught in current times. He noted, “For Black transgender women who are living in crisis: Their crisis must become our crisis.”
To that end, David added, the organization has formed an imitative focused of justice for members of the transgender community. HRC will additionally participate in voters’ registration initiatives, among myriad other activities.
“At the end of the day, our liberties are only as strong as the communities who fights to protect them,” David noted. “…the letters ‘LGBTQ’ are more than just a label.”
Lightfoot praised HRC for its continuing advocacy on behalf of the LGBT community. She also emphasized the importance of advocacy on behalf of transgender Americans.
“These are more than issues of just acceptance,” the mayor said. “These are issues of life and death. … we must fight and speak out loudly when we see hate.”
Lightfoot also had a message for the U.S. president: “So Donald J., if you’re listening, we’re coming for you.” She further promised, “Chicago will be a beacon of light.”
In her keynote address, Underwood, who is a nurse, affirmed her commitment to the LGBT community and discussed her work on healthcare issues. Particularly problematic in the current political climate, she added, are proposals simultaneously disassembling the Affordable Care Act’s anti-discrimination provisions and buttressing legal defenses for healthcare personnel discriminating against LGBT patients and customers.
“Nobody should be forced to face discrimination at the doctors office,” Underwood said. “…These historical legal protections are under attack.”
Illinois Governor JB Pritzker also sent a video message expressing his support for HRC’s mission.
In their address to the crowd, Germaine, an Illinois native who is non-binary, reflected on how lucky they felt to find work both on the Netflix series The Politician and the Showtime series Work in Progress. Germaine said that, as they waited for a career break, they were unstably housed and faced numerous financial hardships. Germaine iterated a commitment to help improve the situations of transgender and non-binary persons, especially persons of color.
“Our social habit must be to pause to lift people up when the opportunity arises,” Germaine said.
Kim Hunt, executive director of the Chicago-based Pride Action Tank advocacy, reflected on her life in activism as she accepted HRC’s Community Leadership Award. Hunt emphasized both that effective social progress is most effectively deployed when persons commit to making even “bite-sized” changes that will be effective in the aggregate, and that a multiplicity of voices and ages are needed in the progressive movement.
“Don’t wait for others,” Hunt said. “Find your thing and do something.”
Dane Hites, a technology solutions analyst for the commercial real estate brokerage Cushman & Wakefield, was also awarded HRC’s Corporate Champion for Equality Award for his work in establishing UNITY C&W, his firm’s LGBT employee resource group.