Michael Simmons has made history in Illinois, becoming the first LGBTQ+ senator serving in the state's legislature. The trailblazer, who was sworn in on Feb. 6, will fill the seat vacated by state Sen. Heather Steans and represent the 7th district, covering the North Side of Chicago.
“While I don’t look like anyone this district has ever had as a legislator, I certainly look like tens of thousands of people who live here,” Simmons told The Daily Line. “Proudly Black, proudly gay, proudly the son of an immigrant.”
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The Chicago native serves as the deputy director of My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, which was launched by former President Barack Obama in 2015 to address opportunity gaps facing young Black men, them reported. Simmons' resume includes his work as a policy and urban planning consultant of his firm, Blue Sky Strategies. He’s also served as policy director under former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and worked as a legislative staffer on Capitol Hill under Sen. Dick Durbin.
“I promise to work hard, I promise to be really progressive, and I’m just looking forward to doing the work for our community,” the politician told The Daily Line.
The board member of the LGBTQ+ advocacy group, Equality Illinois, is receiving praise from his colleagues after his latest achievement.
“We are extremely thrilled with state Sen. Mike Simmons’ historic appointment to the Illinois Senate,” said Myles Brady Davis, director of communications for Equality Illinois. “He will be a powerful voice for change and his impact will extend well beyond Illinois. His victory will inspire more Black people and LGBTQ people to run for office in their communities.”
Rep. Greg Harris, the Illinois House majority leader and the first openly gay person to hold the position, said he feels fortunate to have known Simmons as a friend for many years.
“I’m incredibly excited about the knowledge and enthusiasm he is bringing with him. Plus, his story and lived experience is going to inform and guide us all on so many matters we're confronting in the General Assembly,” Harris said. “I’m happy for Mike and for my neighborhood.”
The LGBTQ+ Victory Institute, which supports prospective LGBTQ+ political candidates, applauded the senator in a tweet, congratulating him for “blazing the trail for LGBTQ leadership in the Illinois Senate.”
— LGBTQ Victory Institute (@VictoryInst) February 9, 2021
Simmons has also been criticized for working too closely with Emanuel, who was accused of covering up the police killing of Laquan McDonald and shamed for closing half of the city’s mental health clinics. Stephanie Skora, a femme lesbian trans activist, spoke up during a community forum saying Simmons refused to criticize Emanuel’s tenure and only disagreed with the former mayor’s decision to close many of the city’s public schools.
“I hope he gives his constituents the answers that we deserve soon so that I can give him my trust, and hopefully my support,” Skora said in a statement to them. “Until then, I'll be looking forward to seeing what he does in the state Senate and counting on him to keep doing his district proud.”
Simmons’ victory against state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, who was considered a frontrunner to fill the position, comes on the heels of a record-setting year for LGBTQ+ representation in politics. According to the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, at least 782 known LGBTQ+ candidates ran for election in 2020 across the country. Among those who battled for positions, 334 won their races.
As Blavity previously reported, two of those victories came in New York, where Mondaire Jones and Ritchie Torres become the first openly gay Black and Afro-Latino men in Congress. Rev. Kim Jackson also made history in Georgia, becoming the state's first LGBTQ+ senator, as Blavity previously reported.