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More work needed to ensure equal treatment for LGBTQ community, experts at Naperville panel say

Jul 15, 2017
In The News

Nancy Mullen has seen lots of positive changes in her 20-year career as an advocate for the LGBTQ community, but so much more needs to be done, she told an audience Saturday.

Mullen, speaking to about 70 people at U.S. Rep. Bill Foster's "Faces of Our Community: LGBTQ Awareness Panel" at the Alive Center in Naperville, provided one personal anecdote about the treatment lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people still occasionally receive.

Mullen said she was recently working in her flower bed when a neighbor — a man who has used derogatory language toward her in the past because of her sexual orientation — came over to his side the fence, pulled down the zipper of his pants and urinated on her.

"This stuff is still happening," said Mullen, who lives in DeKalb and contacted police about the incident. "It is not just happening in middle schools. I was at my own home. I was working in my own flower garden.

"Our work is not done," she said. "It's been amazing, but we have a lot of work to still do."

Foster, D-Naperville, worked with the Alive Center to organize the event, which featured LGBTQ advocates, teens and professionals, such as Fermilab physicist Erica Snider, to share their stories and discuss what needs to happen locally and in Washington, D.C.

It's an important discussion to have, Foster said. Studies show 40 percent of LGBTQ teens do not feel accepted in their communities and are victims of bullying, he said. They're more likely to become homeless if they don't have family or community support, he said.

Progress has been made in the last two years with the legalization of same-sex marriage, Foster said, but 29 states still have no laws preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity. There are no federal laws protecting the LGBTQ community against discrimination in housing, public places or the work place, he said.

Last week, the Republican-controlled Congress attempted to pass an amendment that would have barred health care for transgender military personnel, Foster said.

"This was a disgusting amendment," Foster said. "I was proud to vote against this amendment and very happy to see it defeated."

That it was proposed at all is a sign that things still need to change, especially on the federal level, he said.

"I am committed to standing up for the LGBTQ community and being a strong voice," Foster said. "People are people, regardless of who they love or what gender they relate to. Every person deserves to be treated fairly under the law. Now, more than ever, it is essential to work together and stand up for equal rights."

Snider said she had Foster's support when she decided to transition. She had spent decades in confusion and denial, she said, until she "finally accepted a simple truth about myself. I am transgender."

Snider said she had just started telling people in her life when Foster called her one day.

"The first thing he said was, 'Oh, that's so wonderful and I am so happy for you,'" she said. "Among all the people I spoke to, he was one of two who understood that it was a moment of celebration."

Snider said she's been lucky because she's had a positive experience at work and received support from her colleagues, she said. "I know a lot of transgender do not so I feel pretty fortunate on the whole to be in a place that was so supportive," she said.

Another panelist was 16-year-old Isaac, who said he came out as transgender at age 12. He's had some difficulties, especially when navigating where to go to the bathroom and which locker room to use, but talking to other transgender people has helped, he said.

Some schools have been dealing with transgender issues on an individual basis, with some success and some roadblocks, panelists said. Isaac was not allowed to use the boys locker room as a member of the boys soccer team, but decided to do it anyway, he said.

Foster said everyone needs to fight for LGBTQ rights. It needs to be done on the local level so changes can be made on the federal level, he said.

Mullen said she recently prepared a presentation for Gay Pride Month, where she tracked all the changes the LGBTQ community has experienced. There has been a ripple effect for those she has worked with at Youth Outlook, a Naperville-based organization that provides support to teens who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered or questioning, she said.

Several communities have sought out the organization to create centers, she said. There are currently sites in six counties in the region and a waiting list for more, Mullen said. That will only increase because the average age of someone wanting come out as transgender is 12; it had been 19 a decade ago, she said.