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Illinois is expanding LGBTQ+ protections as neighboring states roll back, but knowing your legal rights is still paramount

Rainbow flags, a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and queer pride and LGBT social movements, are seen outside the Stonewall Monument in New York City.
Rainbow flags, a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and queer pride and LGBT social movements, are seen outside the Stonewall Monument in New York City.

The LGBTQ+ community faces unique challenges in the legal system around everything from discriminatory workplace practices to getting a name change.

Illinois has become something of a bastion for protecting the rights of LGBTQ plus people, even as neighboring states take measures against the community, particularly members of the trans community.

In an interview with WCBU's Tim Shelley, Illinois Legal Aid Online executive director Teri Ross shares some perspective of the current legal landscape in Illinois and across the Midwest - and the resources that exist.

There are, of course, several aspects to this, that we can touch upon here, because there are unique legal needs for people in the LGBTQ+ community. We often hear about housing being a problem for many people in the LGBTQ+ community. Even though discrimination, of course, is not legal, it still happens. What are some challenges people face? And what are some potential remedies?

In terms of the law, as you say, it's illegal, right? Discrimination is illegal. Discrimination, on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is illegal in Illinois. And there are several options for people (who face it).

So one is, you can file something with the United States HUD, Housing and Urban Development There's an Illinois Human Rights Commission that will also hear complaints. And then and then depending on where a listener lives, right, in terms of county or city, they may also have some additional commissions. For example, Cook County has one and city of Chicago has a separate one. And they all have slightly different criteria for in terms of how much time you have to file your complaint after the incident has occurred, and what their process is and how long it takes. So you do have to be a really good advocate for yourself, in terms of when you're faced with any kind of discrimination. But Illinois does does have some really good remedies for people who have faced it.

How can somebody recognize that? Can they say, you know, if I'm not being leased this apartment, if somebody's not selling this house to me, how can I say, I think this is rooted in discriminatory practices, and I think I have a means or a way to pursue this on those grounds?

You hit the nail on the head there attend because it is hard to prove, right? And in fact, I think there there have been studies, not in the LGBTQIA+ community, but in looking at Black versus white lenders, right, and lending practices, homeowners, potential homeowners, homebuyers. And Black homebuyers don't always recognize that they've been discriminated against, but when they actually look at well, you know, this couple was actually less qualified, and they got the loan to get this property and we didn't. And so, there there we have the the role of the there's many fair housing providers and organizations that exist across the state. And what they do is they test, so they they send people in to act as testers who have different immutable characteristics, right, and then do some comparisons. And so that's how they are able to identify that. So that's another resource to pursue, certainly, is to see who the fair housing provider is in your area.

Another thing, of course, that comes up a lot is, you know, being able to legally change your name to reflect your gender identity. Having someone referred to you by the proper pronouns, is another big thing. You can go and get your name changed and all of that, but what were some of the resources available to help people be able to do those things?

I think it's important to note how, how important that name change seems. To some people, (it) can be kind of dismissed as well, that's not that big of a deal. But it really is. It's a step towards your gender affirmation, right? And the same thing with pronouns. It's a way of taking ownership of your own identity, and allows you to assert some social and political legitimacy right over over your identity.

So name change is really critical, and gender marker goes along with that. A name change can be done through the through the court system, there's a standard process for it, we have great resources on our website, that are free available to people, including the court forms, that you need to file and step by step instructions. Once you do get your name changed, then you need to take that name change document that's been approved and get your identification changed in government agencies.

And if and if you are changing your gender marker, then it gets a little bit more complicated. Illinois did pass a law recently that makes it easier to to change your gender marker. They used to require effectively a doctor's note. And now, what's required is the person affirming that yes, this is this is how I identify myself. And one, I guess, administrative problem from the Secretary of State is that they it will take them some time to implement this change in terms of their own systems. Right now, it's just M and F. Right? There is going to be an X option. But it's you know, the systems have to catch up with legislation.

Is there a significant cost tied to going to court to get your legal name changed or things like that? And if there is, are there resources available to help mitigate some of that?

Yeah, so there is a cost. Anytime you go to court and file anything in court, there are filing fees. The one exception to that is the protective orders for domestic abuse survivors. But there is something called a fee waiver. And so if you are, for example, if you receive public benefits, or disability, are on a fixed income of some kind, you can apply for a fee waiver. Every county is slightly different on how they determine whether you qualify. For some, you send in your paperwork and somebody, the judge looks at it. You don't have to go into the courthouse/ Others you do have to go into the courthouse and testify. So it is a process, right, and it varies from county to county, but yes, you can you have the option to waive your fees. And that's true for any court case name change as well as anything else. You will always have that option to ask for a fee waiver.

Just to kind of wrap it up here. So obviously, the law is very complex. And it's it's sometimes difficult for lay people to sort through and figure out, where exactly am I protected? Am I Am I not protected? Where can I find help? Things like that? Obviously, your organization's one place to start. What do you want people to know?

Absolutely. To the extent that you can do your homework and become your own best advocate, or the advocate for yourself and your family. It is critical. And there's tons of information out there. I mentioned that a few we have information on our website, illinoislegalaid.org. That covers discrimination in all areas, housing, education, workplace public accommodation. We have resources on marriage. So Illinois is a state where gay couples can can be legally married, LGBTQIA+ couples can adopt children in Illinois. So just make sure you know what your rights are. And then depending on where you live, there are going to be local resources that are available to you, and you just need to be able to do your research to find where those are.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.