Champaign embraces LGBT culture

By Taylor Odisho

Champaign is the third most lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered, or LGBT, inclusive city in Illinois, according to a new equality index rating ranking five Illinois cities.

The Human Rights Campaign is the largest LGBT advocacy group. Each year, it rates cities on a Municipal Equality Index, which rates cities based on how inclusive they are of the LGBT community. This year, the campaign gave Champaign a score of 74 out of 100.

Champaign Mayor Don Gerard said he doesn’t believe this truly reflects what he believes the city does for the LGBT community.

“It kind of said that we don’t go out of our way to celebrate or acknowledge (the LGBT community),” Gerard said. “I’ve never turned down a request — I’ve always been supportive … Progressive equality issues are always important to me personally.”

Gerard was one of the first mayors to sign on for marriage equality, after Cook County, “about a year before anybody downstate.”

Champaign Community Relations Manager Jason Hood said in a statement why the city may have missed some points. For example, the city does not have a LGBT police liaison or task force, a city contractor equal benefits ordinance, which requires contracts to offer employees equal benefits, or a leadership’s pro-equality policy efforts, due to the city’s lesser level of resources available to it in comparison to larger cities.

“Although I recognize the value of the HRC survey and support HRC’s mission, the City may not have the same level of resources as a larger city,” Hood said. “With that said, Champaign strives to be an inclusive community and works tirelessly with our community partners toward that effort.”

Chicago scored 100 out of 100 points, but as Gerard pointed out, Chicago has a population of about 3 million, compared to a population of about 80,000 in Champaign. Gerard also said he may look into contacting the HRC to see if there’s a way the index can be broken down between larger cities and smaller cities.

“The City of Champaign is a very diverse community, and it is this existing diversity which makes this City such a wonderful place to live,” Hood said.

That diversity can also be seen on the University campus.

Sam Cushing, junior in Business, LGBT individual and Illini Media Board member, said he believes the current generation of students is “much more inclusive and accepting.” However, he also said because the University has one of the largest Greek systems in the nation, some students may be discouraged from coming out as LGBT.

“Personally, I have really great friends, but I am friends with others who … just don’t feel comfortable (coming out),” Cushing said.

The University offers students an LGBT Resource Center, which strives to foster an inclusive environment for the LGBT community, according to their website. The center also seeks to help combat homophobia, transphobia and heterosexist attitudes and beliefs on campus as well as working to make the environment safe and affirming for all students, faculty, staff and LGBT students.

Cushing said he believes lessons taught in the classroom could change to make the LGBT community more accepted by all.

“It’s not taboo to talk about anymore,” Cushing said. “It’s as relevant and factual as talking about racial or religious discrimination.”

Taylor can be reached at [email protected]