Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and members of the office’s LGBT Advisory Council presented Pride Awards to Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) and Chicago Human Relations Commissioner Mona Noriega at Alvarez’s 3rd annual Pride Reception & Awards Ceremony at Center on Halsted Tuesday.
Alvarez said it was a great honor to recognize Harris and Noriega and opened the ceremony by expressing her own gratitude for the support she’s received from the LGBT community, especially during the pride parade over the weekend.
“I want to thank the entire LGBT community for all the support you have shown me throughout my first term,” she said. “I was overwhelmed with the deep support from people along the parade route. It’s a great honor.”
In addition, Alvarez shed new light on her decision to stand in support of the 25 couples in a lawsuit challenging the state’s marriage statute. Just weeks ago, Alvarez publicly stated that her office will not defend the law and that it violates the Illinois Constitution.
“Some have suggested that I have made that decision for political reasons,” she said. “This decision was a no-brainer. I’m not lying when I say it was a no-brainer. It’s the correct decision because it’s the human decision.”
Alvarez’s Chief of Staff, Dan Kirk, reiterated that they did not hesitate to support the lawsuit.
“When we assembled our team of civil lawyers, who are all heterosexual, there was no questions,” Kirk said. “It was common sense for everyone.”
June LaTrobe, the transgender liaison at Center on Halsted, said the fact that the state’s attorney holds a pride reception is “encouraging, even a little emotional. But I would hope motivational.”
“From the perspective of someone who has been in the community for a couple of decades, if you said that the state’s attorney — before the current one was elected — was to hold a pride reception, I would have thought that it was a series of raids,” said LaTrobe.
Alvarez, who was elected in 2008, was joined by Kirk, and WGN Channel 9′s Dean Richards in honoring Harris and Noriega.
After receiving his award, Harris reminded the full auditorium that Alvarez’s stance on marriage equality was courageous, and that she and her staff “made it sound so easy,” even though it is a precedent-setting move for a state’s attorney in the United States.
Harris, elected in 2006, is the highest ranking openly-gay elected official in Illinois and was honored for his significant sponsorship of healthcare reform, insurance reform and breast cancer legislation in the Illinois General Assembly. He was also the chief sponsor of the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act, which granted gay and lesbian couples access to civil union rights when it went into effect last summer.
He reminded the audience that hatred in bigotry is “still out there,” noting that several anti-gay groups are moving into the state to oppose the movement for marriage equality, but he emphasized that if Illinois succeeds in achieving such equality, it will have a ripple effect on the rest of the country.
“So goes Illinois, the heartland of this country, so goes the rest of the country,” he said, adding that the LGBT community, its friends and allies, should take to the polls in November and “return people to office.”
Noriega also spoke to the momentum of the movement in the state, and how when she first started going to pride parades in the ’80s that only few people were able to walk in it because of fears of anti-gay fallout of the times — to the point where there were often too few people to hold up the banners — and contrasted that with this year’s pride parade, which attracted over 850,000 people.
“Can I just say, ‘Oh my god, have we come such a long way?’” she said. “And with that, we have such a long way to go.”
Appointed to the Chicago Commission on Human Relations in March 2011 by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Noriega is a well-known community activist for the local LGBT and Latina communities. She founded Amigas Latinas, a Latina lesbian and bisexual women’s group and co-founded Lambda Legal’s Midwest office. Alvarez’s office also noted that Noriega was a key player in brining the 2006 Gay Games to Chicago.
But she said that just because there is more support for the LGBT community now doesn’t mean advocates and members of the community should stop working for full equality.
“More than before is not good enough,” she said. “Be civilly engaged.”
In addition to the Pride Awards, Alvarez presented the LGBT Pride Celebration Scholarship Award with Jeremy Gottschalk, president of the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago, to Andria Perez, a second year at Loyola University Chicago School of Law.