Illinois a blue haven for gender affirming care, but LGBTQ+ advocates say safety, housing still a concern

Illinois is already a safe haven for those seeking gender affirming care — and the Democrat-led legislature this year passed a pair of bills to further protect the privacy of those coming to the state for care and to make it easier for transgender people to correct their name and gender on IDs.

Those measures are awaiting Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature. But advocates say there’s more the state can do to help the LGBTQ+ community, including a push to require school districts to teach sex education and other calls to help support youth and seniors.

An effort is also underway to waive or minimize filing fees for transgender people as they request a legal name change — and allow the petitioner to request that a court seal the name change if public disclosure may harm their health or safety. The bill is aimed at protecting other vulnerable populations, including survivors of violence and refugees. Legislation stalled in the Illinois Senate this spring.

“Obviously, we have to think about the whole state. And here in Chicago, you can live relatively anonymously. But, you’re living in a small town and you have to publish in your local newspaper that you’re transitioning, that’s going to put you at significant risk,” said the bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago. “So, similarly, we provide the safety waivers for folks who have other risks, whether it’s somebody fleeing a domestic violence situation, somebody coming out of a trafficking situation, things like that. We’ve created these bypasses for folks, and this would have added to it.”

Cassidy is also pushing for a measure that would give a $500 tax credit to people and health care providers who are fleeing states that limit access to abortion or gender affirming care.

Equality Illinois is leading a push for the state to require sex education in public schools. The state provides districts with a “medically accurate, evidence-informed, response and trauma-informed guide” for sex education — but it is optional for districts to provide. Parents can also opt their students out of it.

Pritzker in 2021 signed two bills that updated sex education for K-12 schools. Republicans said they didn’t like that the curriculum was guided by the National Sex Education Standards, and didn’t necessarily agree that the topics covered were age-appropriate.

But advocates say the lack of sex education has led to bullying of LGBTQ students and people of color.

“There’s just no reason in a state with a governor in both chambers as supportive of reproductive health of LGBTQ+ people on kids safety that we have in Illinois, that we should be living in a state where 72% of school districts don’t teach this to kids,” said Equality Illinois CEO Brian Johnson. “It’s not safe.”

Pritzker told the Sun-Times in a statement that while he’s proud of his accomplishments over the last five years in making Illinois “the most LGBTQ+ friendly state in the country,” there’s more work to be done. Earlier in June, the state announced a new Transgender and Gender Diverse Wellness and Equity Program, which will provide organizations with medical care for transgender, gender-diverse and LGBTQ+ people.

“While we have a great deal to celebrate, we can’t stop there. Not when you have a Republican Party that is crystal clear about their goal of infringing upon the rights of those who they deem different,” Pritzker said. “A person’s right to live and love and learn should never be questioned and for as long as I’m governor, I will continue to shape an Illinois that is safe and welcoming for all.”

Affordable housing for the LGBTQ+ community remains a concern — for youth that are coming out of care from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, as well as seniors. And just like with other populations, safety on public transportation remains an issue, according to Tracy Baim, co-founder and owner of Windy City Times.

“Nursing homes in America, aftercare in America is extremely limited, but also a lot of it is very homophobic and transphobic and a lot of people go back into the closet in their elder years,” Baim said. “I think housing to me has always been near the top of the needs of LGBTQ people that I cover.”

Still, Baim said she’s heartened by representation in the state, especially with a record-setting nine City Council members who identify as LGBTQ+. Another measure awaiting Pritzker’s signature will require nonprofits that report grants of $1 million or more to other charitable organizations to disclose diversity information about their boards on their websites.

“Because we have more people in powerful positions, we are listened to more and we are, our allies in government, especially Gov. Pritzker and [Lt. Gov.] Juliana Stratton are seen as huge allies of the LGBTQ community. And that visibility, that outward support, whether it’s Pride Month or other times of year is critical to sending a message to the rest of the Democratic Party that the administration is supportive,” Baim said. “I don’t think those are token gestures.”

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