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Windy City Times 2016-06-08
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City Council committee votes to advance trans measure City Council committee votes to advance trans measure
The Committee on Human Relations of the Chicago City Council passed a ...

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New Equality Illinois CEO to launch listening tour
by Matt Simonette

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By Matt Simonette

Brian Johnson, who, on June 1, took the reins as the new CEO of Equality Illinois, said that he was attracted to the position for two reasons.

"I felt this incredible gratitude for the right to get married," he said. "I just got married three weeks ago. I felt incredibly grateful for the leaders that came before me and led the fight that gave us this incredible opportunity. But on top of that, I was getting incredibly frustrated with the number of people I'd hear say things like 'mission accomplished' in terms of social justice. Particularly, I remember reading that when the Empire State Pride Agenda closed. They said, 'Mission accomplished.'"

Johnson was announced as the replacement for outgoing CEO Bernard Cherkasov at the end of April. Although he's been in Chicago for about a year and a half, Johnson was previously active in education and politics, primarily in California. He was executive director of Teach for America, then Larchmont Schools, a small public charter school network. He also ran for the California State Assembly in 2012, losing by only a handful of votes. He was most recently vice-president of regional impact for Leadership for Educational Impact, a nonprofit building leadership among Teach for America teachers.

"To me this work is about how issues of race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, schools and communities all can intersect. And personally, the opportunity for me to lead with my full identity as a gay man and as part of as part of an LGBTQ advocacy organization is exciting," he said.

His first order of business in the new job is a listening tour across the state, he said.

"I want to make sure that we are listening to people in the full diversity of our community," Johnson said. "But I also want to make sure that we have the door open to people in intersecting communities—young people, people of color, people in all income-streams. Finally, I just want to make sure that we are talking to people across the entire state—that is important to us."

He added that the organization would soon be at work on its next strategic plan: "We really need to listen to our stakeholders and constituents, champions and allies. And I think, with me being new, it gives me the chance to go out and build relationships."

Getting input from community stakeholders, he said, was a skill he built up while running for office.

"That really forced me to understand what it meant to go out into the community and understand a community, to ask people, 'Where are you hurting? What are your fears?'" Johnson said. "That process will serve us well at Equality Illinois. When I was a candidate, I personally knocked on 4,000 doors and called 2,500 voters. That process of sitting down and listening to people, trying to truly understand their hopes and fears, will serve us well."

He added that he was distressed by the number of religious freedom bills coming down the pike in many states across the country. "We had the risk of people taking their foot off the gas [after marriage equality was settled], but there are so many other issues. If you are a transgendered youth, a low-income lesbian of color, or an elderly gay man relying on social services, marriage is great, but there are so many more fights that need to happen."

Equality Illinois will soon begin work on itsr next strategic plan to carry it up until about 2020, Johnson added, noting that many of the organization's future goals depend on what he and his colleagues hear on their tour in the weeks ahead.

"I do know that there are injustices that are going on across this state," he said. "It is worrying to me about the level of endangerment and stigmatization of transgender Illinoisans face. It concerns that we still have a gay panic defense as a permissible defense to violent crimes and murder. It concerns me that not all of our LGBT youth are fully safe and accepted at schools. It concerns me that we haven't fully made sure that all of our documentation, birth certificates and records aren't fully aligned to an individual's gender identity. These things concern me, but what issues boil to the top will depend on what people are saying on the ground."

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Illinois General Assembly passes LGBT pension bill 2016-05-31
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Illinois state GOP: Marriage is still one-man, one-woman 2016-05-23
Mexico's Wild Ride to Marriage Equality 2016-05-18
U.S. Reps. Cicilline, Schakowsky open EqualityCon 2016 2016-05-17
EqualityCon panel addresses trans issues, budget impasse 2016-05-17
Equality Illinois names new CEO 2016-04-25
Children's Museum marks Family Equality Day 2016-04-14
HRC, Equality North Carolina ask Gov. McCrory, legislative leaders for H.B. 2 records 2016-04-14
Out & Equal promotes workplace equality 2016-04-13
Women's Equality Nat'l Monument created, President speaks there on Equal Pay Day 2016-04-12
Illinois Safe Schools Alliance head to step down 2016-04-06
Illinois Freemason head opposes gay bans 2016-04-01
Cherkasov to depart Equality Illinois this week 2016-03-30
LETTERS Open letter to trans community from National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) 2016-03-30
Trans-related bills advance to Illinois House committee 2016-03-28
Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center named LGBT Healthcare Equality leader 2016-03-23
Sixty companies launch business coalition for the Equality Act 2016-03-11
Illinois state reps divided over trans issues 2016-03-09
ELECTIONS 2016: Illinois House races hinge on ending Springfield inaction 2016-03-09
Task Force marks International Women's Day, joining UN call for gender equality 2016-03-08
Illinois LGBT Sanders endorser list released 2016-03-07
Hillary Clinton gets backing from some Illinois LGBTs 2016-03-04
Debate Recap: Kasich, Cruz and Trump double down on overturning marriage equality 2016-03-04
AFC stages die-in at Illinois Statehouse 2016-02-22
Raggedy And to benefit The Legacy Project and Illinois Safe School Alliance 2016-02-22
Polling: Majority of Americans support a bill like the Equality Act 2016-02-18
Illinois poverty report released 2016-02-17
Equality Illinois PAC issues second round of endorsements 2016-02-16
Harris files trans-related birth certificate bill in Illinois House 2016-02-11
Equality Illinois holds pre-gala event 2016-02-10
Equality Illinois to host Financial Education Fair 2016-02-09
Equality Illinois PAC issues first round of endorsements 2016-02-08
Pelosi joins Equality Illinois in anniversary celebration 2016-02-07
TPP signing undercuts U.S. commitment to LGBTQ equality, HIV/AIDS fight 2016-02-04
HRC releases state equality index 2016-02-03
Illinois families say state of state weak, cite failure to pass responsible budget 2016-01-27
Pritzker chairing Equality Illinois gala 2016-01-27
Cherkasov stepping down from Equality Illinois 2016-01-21
Suburban legislator files Illinois restroom access bill 2016-01-20

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