Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Lobby Day a Success

Lobby Day a Success
by Amy Wooten
Copyright by The Windy City Times

The state’s Capitol overflowed with LGBT people and their supporters on April 18 for the Civil Union Lobby Day.
“We did not go unnoticed in the state House on Wednesday,” Equality Illinois’ Rick Garcia told Windy City Times after the event, which drew roughly 200 participants.

Illinoisans from all walks of life—from suburbanites to Chicagoans, PFLAG parents to Log Cabin Republicans, clergy members to LGBT couples—spoke with their state legislators in an attempt to push forward a civil-union bill sponsored by Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago. The Religious Freedom and Civil Union Act, or HB 1826, would grant unions to same-sex couples in Illinois. The next step is for the bill to go to the full House for consideration, where it needs 61 votes to pass.

Garcia told Windy City Times that Lobby Day went very well. Hundreds came out for Lobby Day from all over the state on a day that Garcia described as a “madhouse,” but the civil-union lobbyists were able to gain access to legislators to engage in productive conversations.

According to Garcia, Lobby Day is crucial for a number of reasons. “One, I think it helps to put a face on the issue about civil unions and equal marriage rights to legislators,” he said. “They are confronted with real-life human beings with real-life stories, and that’s extremely important. But the other element that is important is that these people who come to Lobby Day sometimes get information from the legislators that the lobbyists or the other legislators can’t get. We get great insight in the evaluations of the conversations that the participant had with their legislator.”

Ed Yohnka of the American Civil Liberties Union ( ACLU ) of Illinois walked away from Lobby Day very impressed. “You always know there is a lot of energy out there and a lot of commitment to these issues, but it is really impressive to see it gathered in the same room and to see how excited people were.”

Yohnka was also impressed by the sheer variety of people gathered for Lobby Day, from clergy members to parents. “It restores your faith in democracy,” he said.

GLBTs tell lawmakers their concerns on Lobby Day
Copyright by The Chicago Free Press
April 25, 2007

Welcoming a group of Equality Illinois activists for the group’s lobby day, Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) spoke about the first person to thank him for introducing a gay marriage bill back in February.

“Thank you so much for doing this,” an older woman, who was one of the House’s office cleaners, told Harris. “Maybe this means my granddaughter and her girlfriend will want to move back to Illinois.”

The marriage bill did not make it out of committee, but Harris’ subsequent civil unions bill, HB 1826, did, and will likely be voted on this spring. Equality Illinois held a lobby day April 18, sponsoring a trip to Springfield for 175 activists so they too could relate the importance of passing this bill to their state representative.

Sherry Burlingame and Linda Zetterberg of Aurora have had their relationship marked both by a marriage in Canada and a commitment ceremony at their Unitarian Universalist church in Naperville. To them, HB 1826 is not just about having their partnership officially acknowledged. It is also about ensuring their financial stability in the future.

Both women are in the state pension system and will have some retirement income. If they were a married heterosexual couple, however, each partner would be entitled to the other’s survivors’ benefits.

“If I die, or Linda dies, that puts everything we worked for in jeopardy,” said Burlingame. She also said the rising cost of health insurance is a concern for them, adding, “It’s very much the same issues everyone worries about. We spent the other day filling out two sets of tax forms, trying to figure out who takes which deduction for what.”

Burlingame and Zetterberg, after hearing the briefing on the lobbying process by Equality Illinois officials, quickly spoke with David Valkema, president of Log Cabin Republicans’ Chicago chapter, to get some additional talking points for their representative, House Republican leader Tom Cross (Plainfield). Neither woman has any affection for the Republican Party, but both said they appreciated the additional points.

When the House is in session, the lobbying process can be chaotic and frustrating. Lobbyists and activists crowd around a roped-in area outside the House chambers. Attendants gather the cards of people who want to speak with representatives, who may or may not come and speak with their constituents.

When Burlingame and Zetterberg showed their information to the attendant, he said, “He’s leadership. They don’t ever come out here. You have to go to his office.”

“When will he be back there?” Burlingame asked. The attendant shrugged.
They went to Cross’ office, only to find it overrun with lobbyists. Nobody had any indication of when the representative would be back. Burlingame and Zetterberg left a message behind.

But the trip was productive. Though this lobby day was meant for speaking with House members, Burlingame and Zetterberg called on their state senator, Linda Holmes (D-Plainfield), anyway.

To their surprise, Holmes’ receptionist hurried them into the senator’s office, saying, “She’ll want to talk to you.” Holmes told the couple to count on her support.

Other lobbyists came away a bit more frustrated. Stacey Baker of St. Charles waited an hour and a half to speak with her representative, Timothy Schmitz (R-Geneva), with no results.

Baker wants a civil union with her partner of 10 years so they can more efficiently manage some of her partner’s health issues.
They have drawn up the necessary legal documents, but Baker said that they only add to confusion at the hospital.

“We have health directives, (but) I’m tired of carrying them around in the glove compartment of my car,” she said.

Maryka Bhattacharyya had better luck. She missed the Equality Illinois bus and made the drive from Naperville on her own.
“I couldn’t have stayed away if I tried,” she said.

Bhattacharyya was excited after spending several minutes speaking with her representative, James H. Meyer (R-Naperville).

“His mind and his heart are beginning to change,” she said.
For constituents with already supportive representatives, the day was about thanking elected officials, and letting them know that their support mattered.

Rev. Kevin Tindell of the Chicago Black Gay Men’s Caucus and the Sanctuary Ministry said, “My reps were sponsors, so for me it’s easy. I spoke to some. I left some notes.”

He added, “This affects me personally. I have a partner. We adopted two children. And my partner has been hospitalized. I can’t help but wonder, ‘What if?’”

Tindell was in the Statehouse on the day HB 1826 moved out of committee.
“I felt the need to come back,” he said.

Equality Illinois political director Rick Garcia said he was happy with how the day turned out.

“We put this together in about four weeks, and the community responded very well. Even though it was crazy this time of year, we did not go unnoticed,” he said.


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