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Illinois has long been at the forefront of the battle over LGBTQ rights in the United States - Illinois became the first U.S. state to repeal its sodomy laws in 1962 (though it's not all been uphill as 1963 laws against wearing clothing of the opposite sex demonstrate. Last Tuesday, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker continued that legacy, signing four bills into law at the Center on Halsted. As a package, these laws address access to fertility treatment, gender markers on marriage certificates, and the criminalization of HIV, marking a major victory for the LGBTQ+ rights in the state.

LGBTQ+ rights in access to infertility treatments

One of the laws Pritzker signed explicitly bars discrimination in coverage for the “diagnosis and treatment of infertility" on the basis of age, gender, gender identity and other factors. This will help to ensure the state's residents’ ability to “live the fullest lives as their truest selves” and will directly work to ensure LGBTQ+ individuals aren't excluded from such benefits.

Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

“Beginning Jan. 1, Illinois will chart a new path forward with more inclusive, gender neutral language in our insurance code that offers meaningful discrimination protections for accessing these treatments,” Pritzker said, according to a report in the Chicago Sun Times. “Already fertility journeys can be deeply expensive personal and emotional, and I’m very proud to sign a law that removes a part of that burden for the would-be parents of Illinois.”

Marriage certificates aligned to advances in LGBTQ rights

LGBTQ rights have come a long way since Illinois decriminalized homosexual activity - including of course legalizing same-sex marriage. But the needs of transgender individuals for legal documents that match their gender identity has long been neglected. Pritzker signed two laws that work to close this LGBTQ rights gap.

Photo by Jakayla Toney on Unsplash

One of the bills establishes a means for state residents to correct, or remove, gender identifying language on their marriage certificate - this allows those who transition to correct gender information on such documents - or for non-binary or other individuals to remove gender markers.

The other bill establishes the process whereby county clerks issue a new marriage certificate when they receive documentation that someone has legally changed their name. Individually or in combination, these changes allow transgender and other individuals to ensure that their official government documents reflect their gender identity.

Decriminalizing HIV is an LGBTQ rights issue often overlooked

HIV criminalization isn't just an LGBTQ rights issue, but it certainly is one - not least because HIV criminalization laws in the 38 states that had them were often motivated by the stigma placed on those with HIV and the virus's association with MSM (men who have sex with men). By signing this bill into law, Pritzker allowed Illinois to become only the second state in the nation to repeal its HIV criminalization laws.

Timothy Jackson, director of government relations for AIDS Foundation Chicago, was a driving force behind state Rep. Carol Ammons’ effort in the House to repeal the HIV criminalization law, which had been on the books since 1989. The repeal is effective immediately.

Illinois has now just the second of the 38 states in nation with such laws to take this step - following Texas which repealed its criminalization laws in 1994. This is an important step because HIV-criminalization fuel's stigma and discourages individuals at risk from being tested. If someone is unaware of their status, their activities are not criminal. HIV-related discrimination and criminalization “act as barriers to the state’s goal of ending the HIV epidemic in Illinois by 2030” - the important rationale behind this shift.

“Research has shown these laws don’t decrease infection rates, but they do increase stigma,” Pritzker said. “It’s high time we treat HIV as we do other treatable, transmissible diseases.”

Moving ahead

These steps close the rights gap in some key, but narrow areas. Moving forward, even progressive states have many steps to implement to move toward achieving some measure of equality. What do you think should be Illinois lawmakers' next targets for improving the lives of LGBTQ citizens?

How to talk about transgender issues

So how do we talk about transgender issues (even if you're not transgender)? There are three main things to remember when discussing transgender issues today, so before getting into the meat and potatoes of it all, let's keep these things in mind:

  1. It is not a political discussion, it is a human rights discussion.
  2. There is a rich history rooted in transgender rights that must be considered when discussing these issues.
  3. Humanization should always be at the forefront of the conversation.

Before going into any conversation, no matter who it's with, try to keep these things in mind before you say something that may be inappropriate, misguided, or just plain wrong. Even those with the best intentions can mess up; remember that it is always ok to admit when you do not know something or when you are wrong. That being said, let's get into it.

sign with a 'friendly for all genders' image showing a person in a wheelchair, and a person with half a dress and pants on.

Transgender bathroom bills


So whether you choose to become a transgender activist or if you just want to be a better ally, this easy talking point will generally keep you in line and on the safe side of conversations while still putting forth the effort to encourage and better represent transgender rights.

Easy, all-around approach: This will work for almost all transgender issues and expand on the previous three rules; firstly, trans issues are not a debate. When discussing with someone, do not indulge in hypotheticals and always remember that transgender people are the exact same as anyone else, with the exact same feelings. Keeping this in mind, let's use the bathroom bill as an example. When discussing this issue, one should humanize, de-politicize, and normalize the conversation. How does one employ this, though? Here is an example of how the conversation may go.

Person 1: I don't want men in the women's restroom, they will rape my daughters.

So this statement is clearly based on reactionary conversation perpetuated by anti-transgender ideals. This means that the person probably has a misconception of the history and oppression of transgender people. They also show concern for their family, which is a step towards humanization, despite the misconception. Here would be an appropriate response that helps to humanize, de-politicize, and normalize the conversation.

Person 2: I don't want men in the women's restroom, either, which is why we need to make sure people who identify as women are using the women's restroom. There has never been a documented case where a transgender person has raped either a man or woman in a public restroom. And by forcing people to use a restroom that does not match their gender identity, it is promoting violence, as there is a strong history of physical violence against transgender people.

By only saying about three sentences, you are able to do the previous steps while discussing the issue in a civil manner without opening it up to debate. The key to this is to keep it short and sweet, stating both the truth and an ally's stance to support the transgender community. It's critical to make sure that what you say is backed with confidence, though, which is why this second approach is more encouraged as it gives the person speaking more confidence in their opinion.

gif of a man in a suit talking about number 1. Number 1 GIF by PragerU Giphy

The second approach: backed by facts and history, is the exact same as before, but this approach leaves the other person with more questions about their stance and gives them something to consider. Before going into this approach, however, it is important to keep in mind that you are not debating the existence of trans people, nor are you trying to change someone's mind. That is not the goal; the goal is simply to get your opinion across in a way that honors both the trans community and their ideas. Let's take the same example as before but add the new sentiments.

Person 1: I don't want men in the women's restrooms, they will rape my daughters.

Person 2: There has never been a documented case of a transgender person raping anyone in a public restroom, and the only published cases of such were proven to be false. Further, when people say things like this, they are perpetuating violence against transgender people, which has historically (and still does) oppressed and insight further physical violence against them. And honestly, the most common reason there is this stance is because the person typically does not know a trans person and may not even know a person who does know a trans person. But the truth is, they probably do. The probability is more likely that the transgender people around them are just not comfortable enough in the environment to come out and speak up about their gender identity. And yes, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but it is quite sad that some people's opinion does not invite civil discussion but instead incites violence.

This approach is more confrontational, which requires more confidence when using it in a conversation, but it still holds true to all of the previous rules and sentiments. It adds truth based on history, which is an important aspect of trans rights as it reminds people of where we were/ where we are currently with human rights. These ideas can be transferred to most all trans issues and will honor the transgender movement and your allyship. The last thing to keep in mind is the person or reason you are standing up for/with trans rights. The passion -the compassion will shine through in conversation if you keep your reasoning close to heart. Whether it is because of a transgender friend, family member, or just because of your moral values, if you put your emotions into your reasoning, it will create more compelling statements, especially if the statement is well versed with the facts.

Tips to Remember When Discussing Transgender Issues

  1. Transgender issues are not political, they are human rights issues
  2. There is a rich history behind transgender issues
  3. Humanize transgender people through our words and ideas and don't forget to include:
    • 3(b). The facts
    • 3(c).The confidence
    • 3(d). The inspiration behind the support for transgender rights

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Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime

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