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ELECTIONS 2024 Kelly Cassidy discusses reproductive health, LGBTQ+ rights ahead of March primary
by Kayleigh Padar
2024-02-26

This article shared 10279 times since Mon Feb 26, 2024
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State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, running unopposed in the March 19 primary election so as to continue representing the 14th District, was first elected in 2011. During her tenure in Springfield, she has helped pass progressive legislation involving LGBTQ+ rights, access to reproductive healthcare and criminal justice reform.

Cassidy, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, led efforts to ban conversion therapy Illinois, and worked on strengthening protections for LGBTQ+ people who've experienced hate crimes. She is also a member of the House Reproductive Health and Dobbs Decision Working Group. Recently, Cassidy was the lead sponsor of HB4664, which passed in January and increases people's access to both gender-affirming and reproductive healthcare, especially those who travel from out-of-state.

She was also instrumental in the legalization of cannabis in Illinois and the passage of the Human Rights and Family and Medical Leave Acts.

WCT: What are you most proud of accomplishing in the past few years?

Kelly Cassidy: My greatest hits are pretty awesome, and we've accomplished a lot over the years. But honestly, over the last couple terms, something I'm more proud of than anything else is working with newer members, helping them take on tough bills and giving them suggestions on strategy to help them accomplish their goals. It's been pretty satisfying work, while still getting to carry an intense legislative load. Obviously, my Dobbs work is pretty central to my heart, but so is criminal justice stuff. I'm getting the opportunity to take leadership roles in both of those lanes and that's been really gratifying.

WCT: Looking ahead, what do you feel like the biggest issue facing your area is right now, and do you have any plans in particular to address that?

KC:Honestly, I think the "What's the biggest issue?" question fails to recognize we always have to be able to walk and chew gum. Chicago's a really complex place, right? We have to be able to face the issues of new arrivals and legacy needs at the same time. We have to be able to address public safety. We need to be able to address access to quality educate and health care. All of those things are the biggest issues. I think it's a false construct to suggest we should be focused on one thing.

WCT:All of those things are connected too, so I get that's why it's hard to choose just one.

KC:Right, I could put all of my energy and our collective energy into making our schools great, but if we aren't making sure there's access to housing and healthcare and food, they're still not going to succeed. It's always our opponents, frequently asking, "Why are you focused on abortions when carjackings are out of control?" That's just dumb, right? .. The state is a complex place and lots of things have to continue at the same time.

WCT:Sometimes people assume reproductive rights and LGBTQ+ rights are safe in Illinois. But, what do you think is most urgent about those issues right now? What are you doing to reinforce those protections?

KC:That is ongoing and it's constant. Everytime we have a new Supreme Court docket, there are more things to be worried about because they're being targeted.

We're waiting on the case on medication-based abortions to come down, but at the same time it looks like there's something on the docket that could take out the Americans with Disabilities Act. That's why I'm grateful the speaker has made our Dobbs working group an ongoing thing and not a one-off. We are constantly diving into and examining issues that come up as a result of Dobbs, whether that's new cases or unintended consequences around other issues.

Right now, I'm deeply concerned about the bans on gender-affirming care that we've seen going into place around the country. We had an infrastructure in place that was at least somewhat scalable to address out-of-state demands for reproductive health care. That is less true regarding gender-affirming care. I worry about capacity issues there. I worry that we will not be able to be as accommodating unless we increase that capacity.

Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of gender-affirming care in the state. So that exists and it's the same facilities offering reproductive healthcare, but when you look at Lurie's or the fact that most people south of I-80 were getting their gender-affirming care in St. Louis, which has now shut down… What do we do for those folks? What do we do for the family coming in from Florida, who might have a several week wait for an appointment. That's an area I'm concerned about, and I don't know what the answers are yet, but I'm sure keeping an eye on it.

WCT: You recently announced a bill that would give people a tax credit if they move here to access that care or to provide it.

KC: Absolutely. It's not just about a warm handoff for folks who are moving here as medical refugees. It's also an attempt to address some of those shortfalls. We are short of healthcare providers in every category. We're short of teachers in every category. Having that capacity to welcome folks, as minimal as a $500 tax credit is, it's at least something to show we're glad they're here and we want to make their transition as easy as possible.

I have four siblings who've worked in Florida public schools. Over the last few years, they've all retired, rather than try to continue to exist under that level of scrutiny and abuse. In terms of healthcare providers, this is not just about an abortion provider from Missouri who lives across the border. This is about an ER doctor in Florida who doesn't want to have to watch a patient die. This could be a person with daughters, who just doesn't want them growing up unsafe.

WCT:You recently went to the White House to talk about some of these topics around reproductive rights and queer issues. Speak about that, and, also, how do you see your work in the state impacting national politics?

KC: The opportunity to interact with colleagues working in the same space around the country has been invaluable, frankly, since before the Dobbs decision came down. But, obviously even more so since then.

The White House convening us was a great way to make those connections and to engage with folks in states passing restrictions, and hear the ways legislators are fighting back. It's been really valuable to hear their determination and their strength to stay and fight and protect their constituents, while also feeling their gratitude that we're here to receive them. … That's really valuable as we attempt to estimate what we need to do on our end to make sure the protections are solid.

WCT: And what do you think is the value and importance of having LGBTQ+ elected officials in the room for those kinds of discussions?

Kelly: It's hugely important. It cannot be overstated. When I began having these conversations, the first shield laws [protecting individuals from other states] that passed, frankly, were reproductive health-based only. It looked like that trend would continue and people would only shield reproductive rights.

Myself and a few others who were in these rooms—not just in the White House, a few national organizations have been convening us as well—in that capacity, were able to say, "Woah, we are not getting left behind here." That was huge. Our shield law was one of the first inclusive ones. It was a hugely uphill battle. Being able to, as the lead sponsor, simply to the folks who didn't want to vote on an inclusive bill that, "I'm not blinking and I'll be more than happy to name names if I need to explain why we don't have a shield at all because if we don't have an inclusive shield, we won't have one at all." Having the credibility to do that and having the community behind me to do that, it was everything. I don't think people know how close we came to having that go down.

WCT: People sometimes assume that Illinois is pretty on top of these things, but it's interesting to hear that these discussions around LGBTQ+ rights can be more fragile.

KC:We're a very diverse state. This isn't an issue that's relatively new to a lot of my colleagues, in this world where, especially folks from more moderate areas are seeing this is what the crazy, angry, dangerous stuff is being attached to. They're afraid to bring it on themselves. They're afraid to take these votes. So, having that credibility as a member of the community, to let folks know that, "We've got your back if somebody comes for you, but I doubt they'll come for you over this vote." That's been shown to be true time and time again, but we always have to do that education and provide that reassurance around issues that might be scary for folks.

And, I will say, I don't think that it's right to say it's fragile. I don't want to give that impression. Especially given that we won that battle, I don't think we're going to have to re-litigate it much. We have a framework on which to build, using language that provides coverage that people understand. We have an understanding of what lawful healthcare is in Illinois. So, I don't think it's at risk. I want to make sure that's being conveyed. It was at risk in that moment, and it really was an absolute game of chicken to make sure we stood firm. To their credit, the House Dobbs working group and the House Democratic Caucus was solid from the jump on this.

WCT:To finish everything off, what are some of the biggest lessons you've learned over the course of your time in office?

KC:Honestly, treat everyone as if they're there for the same reason you're there. Don't assume motives and be open to learning. My interactions with some of my most conservative colleagues have been some of the most enriching friendships in my life. We might not agree on much, but we can acknowledge each other's humanity and help each other do our jobs better.

I believe strongly in approaching the legislative work in a way that centers the stakeholders. I do always approach my work in that way. We reference it as, "Nothing for us without us." So, when I began to work on the conversion therapy bill—I don't even know how many years ago now—the very first thing that Senator Biss and I did was convene a table of about 25 survivors to talk about their experiences and what they wanted to see happen.

I try to do that throughout my work. I think that reflects well on our community because we're such a diverse group in the 14th district. We've got a wealth of really amazing resources and experts in many topics, it would almost be a sin not to center them.

See repcassidy.com .


This article shared 10279 times since Mon Feb 26, 2024
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