Alderman Dorothy Tillman can find any excuse to talk about marching with Martin Luther King. Last week the excuse was the City Council debate on extending health benefits to partners of gay city employees. Tillman poured out the standard litany of her experiences fighting discrimination against a minority. Then she loudly exhorted everyone to discriminate against a different minority.
Tillman wasn’t the only alderman against the ordinance–18 voted no–but she was the most excitable. She bitterly denounced anyone who saw similarities between discrimination because of skin color and discrimination because of sexual orientation. Equating gay rights with civil rights, she said, was an “insult.” She advised her colleagues to vote against the ordinance because gays are a minority in most wards, so presumably they won’t be a threat at election time.
Apparently Tillman has forgotten the defeated 1986 gay rights ordinance supported by former mayor Harold Washington, another of her oft-mentioned heroes. That ordinance would have added sexual orientation to city laws against discrimination based on race, color, and religion. “This is not a gay rights ordinance–it is a civil rights ordinance,” Washington said then. Tillman voted for it not once but twice that year.
Tillman also voted in 1988 for the city’s human rights ordinance, which includes sexual orientation among groups protected from discrimination in housing and employment.
The 1986 and ’88 ordinances were just as controversial as the current health benefits issue. What’s changed? Tillman lost the Democratic nomination for Cardiss Collins’s congressional seat last year to Danny Davis, a strong supporter of gay rights, and she’s positioning herself for another run against him next year.
Still, she complained about other aldermen who were voting on the gay benefits ordinance for political purposes.
“I heard some of ’em say…’Well Dorothy, I really don’t believe in this, I don’t wanna vote for it, but you know I got those folks in my ward.’ You should hear, they sound very prejudiced,” she deadpanned. “Some say they’re gonna take a walk. Some say they was gonna go in the bathroom. But they don’t have enough toilet paper in there for ’em…if all of ’em go in the bathroom when it’s time to vote.”
Actually, the council chamber restrooms are very well stocked.
Alderman Billy Ocasio spoke in favor of the ordinance, noting that if his ward didn’t reelect him over the issue “so be it. But this is a stand that we must take….You know I don’t always agree with Governor Edgar, but even Governor Edgar has supported this issue.”
“Maybe Governor Edgar came out of the closet too!” cracked Tillman as she walked toward the press box, making sure reporters heard her even as she added: “Maybe because of Thompson!”
Alderman Brian Doherty, the council’s only Republican, was the first to speak against the ordinance. He came back at the debate’s end asking for time to read excerpts from a screed opposing the measure in that morning’s Sun-Times by columnist Dennis Byrne.
“Is that the poet?” asked Daley sarcastically.
“Yeah,” chuckled Doherty nervously before reading the Byrne column aloud.
“Never heard of him, hah!” said Daley.
Doherty continued reading such Byrne insights as “Mind you, no one has established a valid reason to do this; we’ve merely been told that we’re homophobic hate-mongers if we don’t support it.”
“Thank you, Dennis Byrne,” Daley smirked at Doherty when he finished. “Read it this morning.”