McKeon, First Openly Gay Illinois Pol, Dies

America has lost quite the citizen. Former Rep. Larry McKeon of Illinois died after suffering a stroke.

Despite his scant sixty-three years, McKeon, who was his state’s first openly gay politician, had a resume that reads like an American dream:

An Army veteran and former lieutenant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, McKeon came to Chicago in the 1980s to pursue a degree in social service administration.

He worked as a director at United Charities and became involved with gay activist groups, leading to his run for political office. In 1992, he was hired as executive director of the Chicago Human Rights Commission’s Advisory Council on Gay and Lesbian Issues.

McKeon was elected to the House in 1996 by voters in what was then the North Side’s 34th District. During that campaign, he acknowledged being HIV-positive.

McKeon left office in 2007 over concerns about his health. During his tenure, however,the Democrat helped push through comprehensive anti-discrimination policies, which went into effect in January of 2006.

When McKeon announced he would not run again, his colleague Rep. John Fritchey marveled at the impact he had on people’s attitudes, “He may have gone in there as the first openly gay state legislator but he is leaving as a very good legislator who happened to be gay.”