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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
January 14, 2005

Illinois to be 15th state with an equal rights law

Springfield, Ill.--After a 30-year wait, it took the Illinois legislature just two days to send a transgender-inclusive gay and lesbian equal rights bill to the governor to be signed into law.

The Illinois Senate passed the bill on a 3027 vote on January 10. The next day, the House voted 65-51 for passage.

�Yes!� shouted State Rep. Larry McKeon, the Illinois House�s only openly gay member after the Senate vote.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a vocal supporter of the measure, has already said that he would sign the bill if it passed.

The definition of �sexual orientation� in the final version of the bill includes transgender people. It also defuses criticism by the anti-gay side that the protections could be abused by pedophiles.

� �Sexual orientation� means actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, or gender-related identity, whether or not traditionally associated with the person�s designated sex at birth,� the bill reads. � �Sexual orientation� does not include a physical or sexual attraction to a minor by an adult.�

Around half of the population of Illinois already lived in municipalities with gay-inclusive civil rights protections, most notably in Chicago and surrounding Cook County. According to State Sen. Carol Ronen, the lead sponsor of the bill, the legislation was necessary because LGBT people deserve to know they won�t be treated unfairly when they apply for a job or rent an apartment.

�This bill does not confer special rights. This bill is about protecting people from discrimination,� she said.

In addition to employment and real estate transactions, the bill also protects against discrimination in credit and public accommodation.

Civil rights protections based on sexual orientation were first introduced in the state legislature in 1974, and inched closer to victory in almost every legislative session since.

��I had concerns about it, but the more I thought about it the more I think it�s just a basic right that is guaranteed to everybody,� said Sen. Patrick Welch, a lame-duck legislator who previously opposed the measure, changing his vote in the final days of his term.

�The passage of this bill is a major advancement for transgender people, both in Illinois and countrywide,� said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. �Once again, a state has proven that when we dare to dream to protect our entire LGBT community with one bill to cover everyone, legislators respond.�

�The activists in Illinois have done a tremendous job,� he noted, pointing to Equality Illinois and its �tireless leader, Rick Garcia.�

�This win again shows that dogged work by state and local leaders and activists can surmount enormous odds,� he continued.

Once Gov. Blagojevich signs the bill into law, almost half of all Americans--47 percent--will live in a state or locality that protects on the basis of sexual orientation.

Illinois will be the fifteenth state to add such protections. The first was Wisconsin in 1982, followed by Massachusetts, Hawaii, Connecticut, New Jersey, Vermont, California, Minnesota, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Nevada, Maryland, New York and New Mexico.

Maine passed a gay equal rights bill in 1997, but it was repealed by voters the following year.

California, Minnesota, Rhode Island and New Mexico�s laws also protect on the basis of gender identity.

Ohio has no state law, but 11 cities currently have some form of protection against discrimination by sexual orientation. Beginning with Yellow Springs in 1979, they are Oberlin, Columbus, Athens, Cleveland, Youngstown, Cleveland Heights, North Olmsted, Lakewood, Westlake and Toledo. Only Toledo�s ordinance includes gender identity.

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