Equality Illinois opens state offices, names new field organizers

Rachel Skylis (left), Kristy DeWall (right). Photo: Equality Illinois.

Equality Illinois, a Chicago-based LGBT rights advocacy organization and one of the state’s largest LGBT rights groups announced Wednesday it has opened new offices and will quickly operate under the leadership of two newly-hired field organizers. The growth comes during what the organization is deeming as a “critical time” for LGBT rights, particularly for marriage equality, in the state.

As reported in early October, the organization established offices in Westmont to expand advocacy coverage to Chicago’s suburban collar counties as well as an office in Springfield in an effort to increase outreach in the state legislature and south central Illinois communities. The new offices will be run by two newly-appointed field officers who will report to Equality Illinois Director of Field Programs Caroline Staerk.

Rachel Skylis, who is new to Equality Illinois, will work out of the Westmont office, 500 Oakmont Lane. Prior to EQIL, Skylis Service Employees International, a Michigan union at which she mobilized residents in a campaign for home care, according to the organization.

“My commitment to LGBT equality and education began at a young age and is a lifelong passion,” Skylis said in a media release.

To lead the Springfield office, 601 W. Monroe St., the group has hired social worker and former head of the Illinois State University LGBT campus group Kristy DeWall. DeWall also served as the LGBT group’s speakers bureau coordinator and has been speaking for over a decade on how child welfare programs can increase sensitivity for the needs of LGBT youth.

“I am excited to combine my passion for LGBT equality and my love of central and southern Illinois in this new position at Equality Illinois,” said DeWall.

Earlier this week, state legislators returned to Springfield to vote in the lame duck session on last-minute pieces of legislation before members who were not re-elected leave office. Several individuals and organizations have speculated that a marriage equality bill could come up for vote during the session if the sponsoring lawmakers and lobbyists can come up with enough votes.

“Equality Illinois has always had a statewide presence and strong lobbying effort in the state capitol,” said EQIL CEO Bernard Cherkasov. “With Rachel and Kristy’s experience and enthusiasm, we will build on our 21-year commitment to serve the entire state. We will be able to show that the support for fairness is important in every corner of Illinois, be it passing local non-discrimination ordinances, ending bullying, adding transgender protections, and, of special significance at the moment, passing marriage equality.”

Equality Illinois has also teamed up with Sawbridge Studios, a suburban independent furniture business, to hold a fundraising event Dec. 6th from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at 1015 Tower Rd. in Winnetka. In addition, Caroline Staerk recently appeared alongside Rick Garcia, one of EQIL’s founders and the current policy director at The Civil Rights Agenda, for a marriage equality discussion in Naperville, following a reading of Dustin Lance Black’s Proposition 8 play, ’8′.