Rick Garcia joins The Civil Rights Agenda

Rick Garcia, a longtime activist and founder of Equality Illinois, has joined The Civil Rights Agenda as the LGBT rights group’s policy advisor.

“Rick has been a key leader on every gay legislative initiative since the 1980s,” said Anthony Martinez, executive director of TCRA. “From Illinois’s first human rights ordinance to civil unions, he has been shaping the strategy and leading the policy fight.”

Garcia, 51, launched Equality Illinois in 1991 with Arthur Johnston, the late Jon Henri Damski and Lana Hostetler, and served as the organization’s policy director until he was suddenly — and controversially — fired from the organization on Dec. 16, 2010, just two weeks after the Illinois Senate approved the state’s civil unions bill.

Shortly after the formation of EQIL, he spearheaded the movement to get the first nondiscrimination act passed in Illinois.

Garcia said that he is looking forward to working with TCRA and that he will join Martinez to travel to Springfield today to, “get things done.”

“For months now, we’ve been working together and it’s been a really good fit,” said Garcia. “Then Anthony said, ‘Why don’t you just officially join our team?’ And I said, ‘You’re the folks on the ground, you’re the ones doing the heavy lifting, you’re the ones who are getting things done — why not?’”

In addition, Garcia said that TCRA is focused on achieving equality for LGBT people, not grant money.

“Some organizations look to see what grant money is out there and other organizations like TCRA look to see what can be done to protect LGBTQ individuals,” he said. “I have been with other organizations, sitting in a room and all they would talk about is this grant is available, that grant is available — and that’s not the type of work these organizations should be doing.”

At TCRA, Garcia will head up the group’s new marriage equality campaign, Equal Marriage Illinois, effective immediately. The initiative would be an Illinois-specific effort to achieve marriage equality for LGBT people.

“What I am going to do is help put together an Illinois effort that is organic and reflects the politics and the people of the great state of Illinois to get the job done,” Garcia told Chicago Phoenix. “This is good old-fashioned politics that I have done for the last 30 years.”

When national organizations come in to financially support statewide organizations for LGBT rights advocacy, the statewide groups are often constricted by the strings that come with national money, according to Garcia.

“We are focused on the issues, not on who’s checkbook is bigger,” he said. TCRA’s strategy is to maximize support and minimize opposition, he added.

“I am thrilled and humbled that Rick is officially joining us,” said TCRA Public Policy Director Lowell Jaffe. “I got the call that he would be joining us while I was taking my kids to the LGBT history exhibit at the Chicago History Museum. Being in that setting, seeing Rick’s face and words enshrined in our history, and then realizing that he will now be working with The Civil Rights Agenda was a profound moment. It brought everything full circle and made me realize the breadth of his experience is second to none in Illinois.”

Garcia has been honored many times for his work on LGBT civil rights, including accolades from the Illinois State Bar Association, the City of Chicago Gay & Lesbian Hall of Fame and various others.

“I think it’s really good synergy,” said TCRA founder Jacob Meister. “Rick is the face of our community in Springfield over the years and I think he works really well with TCRA and our goals and our mission are really in line.”