Democrat Greg Harris has been in the Illinois General Assembly representing the 13th House District since 2006, and has made many strides in his career. 

   

Harris is an openly gay man, and is openly HIV positive. Harris is also the first out LGBT person in Illinois to become a member of Legislative Leadership.

 

#Boom recently interviewed Harris as part of our "OUT on the Trail" series profiling Missouri and Illinois’ LGBTQ+ candidates in 2018.

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Tell us about your district; where is it, what does it include?

 

My district is the north side of the city of Chicago, very far north. it includes Uptown, North Center, Lincoln Square, Bowmanville, Andersonville, Ravenswood and West Ridge.

 

What are the most important issues that you have seen or heard from your district that are your priority?

 

I think there are two things I hear all the time. One is restoring fiscal stability to the state after the destruction that Bruce Rauner has caused with his budget impasses. 

 

And the second, everyone is worried about being able to get affordable healthcare that’s accessible to them with the providers they want. A lot of concern about healthcare, both from the fiscal side and the behavioral health side

 

A smart politician once said there are only two ways to run a race: run scared or run unopposed. You're doing the latter. What's the campaign trail look like?

 

I’ve been spending most of my time helping to elect JB Pritzker as Governor, someone who will want to build the state back. Also, Kwame Raoul as Attorney General, because I’m really concerned that we have a strong, pro-LGBT, pro-choice, pro-healthcare, especially in the last two years of Trump’s term [because] our Attorney General will be the last line of defense. So if we have an Attorney General like Erika Harold who’s going to line herself up with Trump policies, that’s going to be trouble for the state.

  

A lot of our readers find coming out stories to be particularly empowering. Would you mind sharing yours?

  
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I can tell you that in my district, neither one [being openly gay and HIV positive] has really been a big issue. Clearly there are people who are going to say what they say, who are bigoted or prejudiced or whatever. I’ve been very glad over the 12 years I’ve been doing this, that people want to talk to me on my position on issues, not my sexual orientation or something about my health. 

 

I think the HIV one is particularly interesting because one of the national magazines did a story last year that said there are only two openly HIV positive elected officials in the country. So clearly there’s still a lot of stigma that people see around that. I have not felt it. It may be out there, but so far it has not come up in anything I’ve done. There’s still stigma, there’s still prejudice and we need to be aware of that.

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Let’s talk about some issues of importance to our readers. These are in no particular order. Student loan debt?

 

It is something we have got to find a solution for. I don’t care where I go or what setting, I talk to people who are burdened with an insurmountable amount of debt and some of them at exorbitant interest rates. That’s clearly something we’re going to have to figure out. That’s probably something more a federal level discussion than individual states doing it, but if there’s a state solution I’m totally open to working on that.

 

Healthcare in Illinois?

 

One of the number one issues I hear wherever I go, whether it’s with the person that leads the budget negotiations for the House Democrats and also the chair of the committee where all Medicaid decisions are made. I want to do everything I can to protect people with preexisting conditions to reign in policies insurance companies are having in place to deny or delay care, put prioritization’s on things, increase co-pays beyond a point people can afford them. There’s so much to be done to make sure that healthcare is accessible to people, but also affordable to people. It doesn’t do you any good to have a car if you can’t afford to use it or a provider that will accept it.

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Increase the minimum wage to a living wage?

 

I have been sponsor of that legislation, I have worked with the organized labor and union advocates in it and we’ll continue to fight for it.

 

Despite the political climate that we are currently in, what are the biggest areas of agreement that you and your opposing party can achieve?

 

I’ve had a really good working relationship on healthcare issues with my friends in the Republican caucus. We’re working now on a possible transformation, revisioning how healthcare will be delivered and how hospitals will operate in the state.

 

It has been very good to see everyone working toward the same goal. Obviously there’s different points of view, but people from both chambers and both parties have been working together in a really good way to work with the industry and healthcare advocates to design a system that will improve healthcare in Illinois.

 

Illinois is one of a handful of states where it is illegal to discriminate against gender identity. With all that's going on nationally, what would you say to those Illinoisans who identify as transgender?

 

Those of us in the non-trans community want to be allies, want to stand with you, and want to fight for you. In the legislature, it’s important to note that Illinois has one of the strongest human rights laws in the country and we're going to fight to continue to protect that so that even if on a national level Trump continues with these hateful actions, at least in Illinois we can protect our own citizens with strong anti-discrimination laws. 

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The same thing goes for the immigrant and refugee community, the same thing goes for a woman’s right to choose - which we have protected at the state level, the same thing applies to marriage equality. We were the last state in the country that was able to pass marriage equality legislatively. We have that law on the books, so God forbid something happens on the Supreme Court.

 

Any final thoughts?

 

Vote as if your life depended on it, because in so many ways this year, it will.

 

"OUT on the Trail" is an ongoing series of profiles on out LGBTQ candidates in 2018. Check out our interviews with Kathy EllisTom HanneganMitch WeberIan MackeyPatrice BillingsGreg Razer , Ryan DillonMaggie TrevorGreg HarrisKelly Cassidy and Lamont Robinson.  

 

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