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.
“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.
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.”
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?