Chicago, a haven for the LGBTQ+ community, still can do more for inclusivity

Queer Americans are staring down an increasingly terrifying future. In 2023, legislatures in more than 30 states saw 300 bills filed that would, in various ways, curtail the rights of queer people.

At times like these, I am grateful to be a Chicagoan.

Illinois is one of the safest states in the nation for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Our state has many protections. And it continues to strengthen them. It’s the right thing to do as so many other states are making the opposite choice.

Chicago is the largest city in the United States to have elected a gay mayor. Even though Lori Lightfoot didn’t win reelection, that achievement is still ours.

We also are home to the first officially recognized gay neighborhood. Boystown — now Northalsted — received its designation in 1997.

But Chicago has fostered queer community spaces since at least the 1920s.

LGBTQ+ Chicagoans can marry and build their families freely, live and work with legal protections from discrimination, attend affirming public schools and receive medically accurate sex education. Trans Illinoisans like myself have access to lifesaving health care and medical insurance.

Our elected officials continue to strengthen Chicago’s status as a haven for queer people.

And we must hold our media to the same standard. Many publications have opened their platforms to harmful, exclusionary rhetoric.

As other publications fall prey to queer and transphobic bias, the Sun-Times has an opportunity to lead by example and make different choices. It isn’t censorship to exclude those who rant about the perils of hormone-replacement therapy and rail about drag queens reading books to children.

It is respecting the humanity of LGBTQ+ people enough to understand that any conversation about people that doesn’t include them is dehumanizing. We are Americans, Illinoisans and Chicagoans just as much as anyone else, and we deserve to be here.

Instead of engaging in lazy, poorly researched, “just-asking-questions” rants, opinion columnists should leave the medical care of trans people to their doctors and let the fear-mongers shout into the void.

We can focus our energies on the pressing issues still facing LGBTQ+ Chicagoans.

Access to affordable housing is a queer issue. Studies have shown that LGBTQ+ individuals experience housing insecurity at much higher rates than their heterosexual peers, and in Chicago a significant portion of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+.

LGBTQ+ people are more likely to work low-wage jobs. So, with inflation and wage stagnation, housing becomes even more out of reach. Strengthening enforcement of housing discrimination laws is necessary to protect queer and trans people.

The state of Chicago’s health care infrastructure is a queer issue. Adequately funding and staffing mental, sexual and urgent health care centers across the city is essential. Access to affordable and effective health insurance plans through public exchanges saves lives. Investing in community-based harm-reduction programs also would save lives.

Erasure is a queer issue. There are people who are doing their best to erase us from public view, from history and from existence entirely. We must make sure we teach queer histor in the classroom and on the streets of our city.

Chicago being a more LGBTQ+-affirming city will not turn straight people gay or trans. It will show the world we are a place where everyone is welcome.

Christopher Bigelow — who is trans, works in publishing and volunteers at the Center on Halsted LGBTQ+ community center — is one of the Sun-Times’ Chicago’s Next Voices columnists.


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