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Illinois’ GOP governor, LGBT rights advocates find common ground

Illinois’ GOP governor, LGBT rights advocates find common ground
Gov. Bruce Rauner (R-Ill.)
Gov. Bruce Rauner (R-Ill.) AP

CHICAGO — Putting election-year hostilities behind them, LGBT rights advocates said they emerged from a meeting with Gov. Bruce Rauner with a pledge the Republican will strictly enforce anti-discrimination laws and hope that he’ll also support their top legislative priority: a ban on gay conversion therapy for minors.

Representatives of Equality Illinois and other advocacy groups met with Rauner Friday for the first time since he took office in January.

Rauner said he’ll issue a directive that state agencies strictly enforce anti-discrimination laws. He has directed the Department of Human Rights to conduct a survey of Illinois residents to identify patterns of discrimination and provide recommendations to his office by Jan. 31. Rauner also said he’ll appoint a liaison from his office to the LGBT community.

Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov said Saturday the roughly 30-minute meeting was a positive first step. A spokesman for Rauner confirmed details of the meeting but declined to comment further.

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Gay rights activists supported Rauner’s rival, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, during the campaign. They campaigned actively against the GOP businessman, calling him “an enemy of equality” and hanging a huge anti-Rauner banner along the route where thousands of people attended Chicago’s gay pride parade.

A major issue was Rauner’s position on same-sex marriage. Quinn signed legislation making same-sex marriage legal in Illinois, and called it one of his proudest accomplishments. Rauner declined to say whether he personally supported it. And while he said he had no plans to overturn the law if elected, he also said that if the same-sex legislation had landed on his desk as governor he would have vetoed it because voters should have decided the issue.

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Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov
Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov

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Cherkasov said the campaign was not a focus of Friday’s meeting.

“I think on both sides we understand political campaigns can be difficult,” he said. “It wasn’t about looking back. This meeting was about moving forward.”

Cherkasov said they discussed the proposed gay conversion therapy ban, and that Rauner asked “thoughtful” questions about it but did not indicate whether he would support it. Rauner spokesman Lance Trover said Saturday the governor hasn’t yet taken a position on the bill.

The legislation would prohibit therapists from trying to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of a person under 18. Mental health providers who do so would face discipline from their licensing board.

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Supporters, including the Illinois Psychiatric Society and the Illinois Mental Health Counselors Association, say conversion therapy has been discredited and can harm young people. Opponents say therapists could be punished unfairly and that the ban would strip parents of their rights to decide what kind of treatment their children receive.

California, New Jersey and Washington D.C. have approved bans, and similar measures are pending in several other states. In Oklahoma, legislation has advanced to protect the practice.

Cherkasov noted that Gov. Chris Christie – a Republican, like Rauner – signed New Jersey’s ban into law.

Supporters also tried to pass a ban in Illinois last year but it failed in the House, 44-51.

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