Lawrence McKeon, Illinois, 1996
Lawrence McKeon (D)
Born June 30, 1944
Died May 13, 2008
State House of Representatives, District 34
Elected November 1996
Re-elected 2000, 2002
Interview with Lawrence McKeon for Out and Elected in the USA
Q: How do you think HIV and AIDS have impacted the gay and lesbian community politically in a broad sense?
A: Well, we’re not a single issue community. The whole issue of non-discrimination in employment and housing – it is our top priority to get a state bill passed which is similar to the law in the city of Chicago and Cook County. And HIV and AIDS is a major issue, but so is breast cancer in the lesbian community, and other forms of cancer that lesbians are at very, very high risk. There are other diseases that gay men should be award of. In fact I have bills on both prostate cancer and testicular cancer that healthy gay men; and other forms of cancer that healthy lesbians, should be aware of. It is all about prevention and education. But we focus on those issues and sometimes we get defined by those two issues. And really, many of us have children, we’re concerned about schools, we’re business owners and want qualified employees, we’re neighbors and we want safe neighborhoods, we have ill family members and we want them cared for in the health care system. So, we’re not a single issue community; HIV and AIDS, and human rights are certainly the top priorities, but it’s not the only issue that we’re struggling with and unfortunately we sometimes get defined by others as being single issue focused.
Q: Has there been an up side politically?
A: Well, I think so, as more people get involved in the political process – run for public office or get involved in campaigns. I think that my campaign has empowered a lot of people not only in the gay and lesbian community, but the HIV community, to become directly involved in the political process either in terms of electoral office or appointed office. You’ve seen people appointed at the state level, at the city level, to boards and commissions and key leadership posts and the administrations.
Q: Any other general thoughts or observations?
A: Well, I think the struggle for me personally, is between what’s public and what’s private. As an elected official, very little is private. I ran, you know, as an openly gay man. As the mayor’s liaison I use to say that there wasn’t a closet big enough for me to go back into. I was also somewhat open about my HIV status and the death of my partner. But when that became an issue in the campaign, and then more recently when a small number of people within the gay and lesbian community used that as a political weapon, you know, that cuts it to the quick. That’s pretty personal; pretty private. It is sort of the double whammy not only dealing with being a gay man but also dealing with AIDS on a day-to-day basis. It certainly hasn’t affected my ability to do my job, but you know, when you’ve got a previous governor with chronic heart disease or a candidate for lieutenant governor – an incumbent lieutenant governor that’s a breast cancer survivor or whatever, there are some groups in society that will use that as political weapon.
Q: How were some trying to use your HIV status?
A: To undermine my support particularly in the area of fundraising. My Republican opponent in the current race frequently accuses me of “flaunting my HIV status” for my own “personal political agenda.”
Q: Do you see yourself staying in politics?
A: Well, you know, as long as I have the support of the electorate in my district. We’re going to have a new map in the election of 2002, as the state law requires us to re-district di-centinnial census, so we have to see how those boundaries are redrawn, but I have tremendous support from the entire community and other elected officials, so we’ll keep up a good fight as long as I have the support of the electorate in my district.