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Illinois' 1st openly gay state senator hopes to inspire

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For the first time there's an openly gay lawmaker serving in the Illinois State Senate. State Senator Mike Simmons was appointed earlier this month to represent the 7th district, which is on Chicago's North Side.

Video Transcript

- Mike Simmons is still getting used to his new title of state senator, representing the 7th district on Chicago's North Side. He's the first openly gay state senator in Illinois.

MIKE SIMMONS: I was a little disappointed that we haven't broken this milestone, frankly, before 2021, but I'm honored to be the first.

- He was appointed to former State Senator Heather Steans's seat earlier this month. Simmons grew up on the North Side in public housing. His father sought refuge in the US from Ethiopia. Simmons is the founder of Blue Sky Strategies, which specializes in shaping anti-racist public policy and equitable urban planning. He says he brings all of those experiences to the legislature.

MIKE SIMMONS: My Blackness and my gayness are beautiful and important ingredients to who I am. And so I stand proud on my identity.

- Across the country, the LGBTQ community is underrepresented in state legislatures, but the numbers have been going up, increasing by 9% from 2019 to 2020, according to the LGBTQ Victory Institute.

KIM L. HUNT: In some parts of the country, and this state, it's no small feat to run as an openly LGBTQ person.

- Simmons plans to address health disparities and economic insecurity in Springfield. As someone who was bullied in his youth for being gay, Simmons hopes he can serve as an inspiration for young people in his community.

MIKE SIMMONS: One person breaks the ceiling, and I think a lot of other people will start to step up and run for office.