We here at Queerty are big fans of the United States, the nation that bore us, Celebrity Jeopardy, the hamburger and that whole representative democracy thing. It’s a nation rich in natural resources, can-do attitude and homosexuals, and each week, we’re visiting a new state to find out just what makes it so uniquely fabulous.
Land O’ Bama
Home to amber waves of grain and politicians as esteemed as Abraham Lincoln (and as corrupt as Rod Blogajevich), Illinois is the cultural capitol of America’s beating Heartland. Gays and lesbians enjoy a relative degree of freedom in the Land of Lincoln, with full adoption rights and protection against workplace discrimination in both public and private business. However, in 1996, gay marriage was outlawed in the state.
The Fight For Your Rights
Spurred on by the marriage loss in California, gays and lesbians in Chicago and the state capitol of Springfield have taken to the streets in recent months, demanding a repeal of DOMA and demanding full marriage rights for Illinois. They may get their wish. Introduced by openly gay State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act would “provide eligible same-sex and opposite-sex couples with the same treatment as those in a civil marriage” while stating explicitly that no religious institution would be forced to perform same-sex marriage. Of course, by the virtue of the Reflexive Law of Marriage Inequality, a marriage equality bill is always accompanied by an anti-marriage equality bill. Conservatives are working to get an initiative to outlaw gay marriage in the state constitution on the ballot in 2010.
A cavernous, come-as-you-are bar in the heart of Chicago’s Boystown, Sidetrack offers up affordable drinks as well as a bevy of popular nights, including Sidetrack’s Showtunes Sunday, a local favorite. One of the signs that gays and lesbians hold political clout in Chitown is the fact that Sidetrack is a go-to spot for politicians looking to court the gay vote.
Kevin Hauswirth is an adjunct lecturer at Columbia College where he teaches courses on public relations to the gay and lesbian community. He’s a Chicago native and the co-creator of Homos Are a Hoot, a really cute t-shirt whose sale proceeds go to LGBT equality causes.
What’s the best part about living in Illinois?
I think the best part is being right in the middle of the country. We get the best of each coast, as well as our own very original Midwestern spin on things. I would say it’s laid back, but not lazy. There’s a certain Midwestern hospitality. People will give you directions, may even walk you where you’re going. I think that pertains to Chicago as well, even though it’s a really big city.
What do you think is the biggest problem facing gays and lesbians in Illinois?
I think we’re under a greater microscope, because we just sent our Senator to the White House. So, I think, being his hometown gay community, we’re looked at a little more critically to get a sense of where Obama might be going, because we know where he came from.
Being from Obama’s hometown, you may know that he once filled out a questionnaire saying he was for gay marriage. Where do you think he stands on gay rights?
I think he demonstrated when he was in Illinois – and will demonstrate while he’s in the White House – that he’s a strong supporter for equality. I think, politically, things are going to move more slowly than any of us want. But my feeling is that, having worked on multiple campaigns in the suburbs and in the city of Chicago, we have to look to change our own neighborhoods before we can look to have a President change a nation. It has to happen from both ends. My feeling from working in politics here is that until you’ve knocked on the doors of your neighborhood and been on the phone and called your fellow voters and convinced them that we deserve equality – until you’ve done that – I would say that you should be cautious in how much you’re going to point the finger at somebody in power.
Describe your average Illinois gay.
I don’t know how much I want to get into generalizations. I think I would go back to—the Illinois gay who is from Illinois and not a transplant from somewhere else is relatively easygoing. I get a sense we’re not as assertive as some of our other big city gay counterparts. I think you’re less likely to be hounded by gays at a bar than you might attract on one of the coasts. I think that Chicago gays tend to be rather respectful and I think that has to do with growing up in the Midwest and those good ol’ Midwestern values.
If there’s one thing a gay visitor to Illinois should do, what is it?
I think you need to go to Sidetrack; it’s a community staple. It’s a bar that gives a ton back to the community and pretty much, for any fair-minded politician, the road to Springfield, City Hall or Washington D.C. stops off at Sidetrack at some point. It’s the epicenter of the gay rights community here as well as the nightlife.
What’s one misconception about Illinois you’d like to clear up?
I think it is a coast. I think Chicago is a coastal city and we don’t get credit for being a big city. I think when you go to New York or L.A., when people go to big cities, and people think about culture and fashion, their minds go to the coast and I think sometimes they forget about the third coast, which is Chicago. We are on a coast, with Lake Michigan, and it feels like a coast—both in the sense that we are on water and that we have just as much going on as our L.A. and New York counterparts do.
Three down, forty-seven to go. Each week until we’re done, Queerty will be traveling to a new state and meeting the gays. We love featuring our readers, so if you think you’re Model Citizen material, shoot us an email at [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you.