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Chicago Alderman Raymond Lopez on Becoming Windy City's Gay Latino Politician

First Posted: Jul 07, 2015 05:00 AM EDT
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With the formation of Chicago's first Gay Caucus, and involvement with the city's Latino Caucus, Alderman Raymond Lopez has focused his first city council term to raise issues of awareness on all levels of government for Latinos, LGBT and African American communities.

Elected last April, Lopez became the first of two Latino gay aldermen in Chicago history, but he is the first openly gay alderman serving the city's South Side. During an interview with Latin Post, Lopez acknowledged his engagement into politics started when he was 18 years old, when a neighbor recommended it as "a possible alternative to just sitting down on the street corner and hanging out with my friends all day."

Lopez represents Chicago's 15th Ward, which he describes as an ethnically diverse ward.

"It's a ward that is in transition," detailed Lopez. "When I was first elected in this ward as a Democratic committeeman in 2012, the demographics of the ward was 57 percent African American and the rest predominantly Latino, now it's a predominately Latino ward with the roles almost exactly flipped -- 67 percent Latino, 20 percent African American."

The 15th Ward, comprised of predominantly working-class residents, is also touched by crime and violence everyday, according to Lopez, adding, "We have our challenges [but] I know we're up to it."

With the latest session of Chicago's City Council sworn in, Lopez became one of five aldermen to form its Gay Caucus, founded by Alderman Tom Tunney and includes aldermen Deb Mell, James Cappleman and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, the latter the other first Latino gay alderman in Chicago's council.

"Alderman Tunney was the first openly-gay alderman in the city's history and for well over a decade, he was the only one on the City Council," said Lopez, later adding, "the number of openly gay and lesbian members on the Council represents one-tenths of the City Council, so, the idea was that if there are that many of us here, we need to make sure we have a unified voice and the ability to raise issues of awareness on all levels of government, particularly in our budgeting process to ensure that measures are taken to address the needs in our community."

Lopez said the overarching propriety for the Gay Caucus will be to ensure LGBT issues are included in the dialogue of the city's budget allocation.

"When we talk of homelessness for example, the city spends millions of dollars to deal with the homeless population of our city," Lopez said, however, the youth homes "doesn't get much attention and therefore doesn't get a much dollar allocation to it. We hope to change that."

Other issues include access to health care, access to healthcare but overall to make sure that LGBT issues are represented with regards to our expenditures, that's our primary goal.

In having the distinction as a Latino, but also as the only elected gay person from Chicago's South Side, Lopez said it's a great honor but also a great responsibility.

"We have to be role models for our community, especially for the Latino community so that families and parents know that it is okay for their children to be who they are and who they are meant to be and to love them all the same," said Lopez.

The Latino alderman said the ability to carry the message to schools, where they are dealing with bullying and other issues as it relates to students developing sexuality, and being able to handle those kind of conversations with parents, schools and administrators so that they know how to properly deal with the next generation, is a huge responsibility and "to be able to be a part of that is a wonderful thing."

Lopez said such progress sets the future, and he, and others, "did it not as running as gay Latinos but as Latinos who happen to gay. That speaks volumes to our communities."

With the Latino Caucus, Lopez said there is a focus on providing a "more unified, cohesive voice" on issues affecting the Latino community, particularly how Latinos deal and participate in city governance. The 15th Ward alderman said the Latino caucus wants to make sure Latino firms have the access and opportunity to become contractors and the money for construction, concession and other items. A mandate for the Latino Caucus is also budgeting and the hiring process, noting, "that we're getting our fair share to what's available to us."

"The bulk of my time has been trying to put out a number of outstanding issues that we inherited from the ward ... making sure that all of our residents are able to start with our best foot forward," added Lopez about his ward.

"I know it might not seem glamorous but we are dealing with, quite literally, several hundred civic city servant requests," aimed at improving the overall quality of life, from doubling the amount of street cleanings, sanitation, and dealing neighbor-to-neighbor issues, which occupies 95 percent of his time.

"And I'm happy to do that part," Lopez said.

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