by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer
CHICAGO (CBS) -- Angered over what she called "the offensive nature of the tone" of a debate over a measure to study possible contract set-asides for LGBTQ-owned businesses, an impassioned Mayor Lori Lightfoot chastised aldermen for objecting to a plan to determine whether the gay community faces obstacles in obtaining city contracts.
"I feel compelled to speak to this issue," the mayor said after several aldermen voiced concerns that setting specific contract goals for LGBTQ businesses could lead to fraud.
The mayor is ordering a one-year study that would determine whether gay- and transgender-owned firms face discrimination when it comes to bidding for city contracts, in order to decide if such businesses should receive incentives or if the city should set goals for those companies to receive a specific percentage of city contracts.
Several aldermen have expressed reservations about creating contract set-asides for the LGBT community, much as it already does for businesses owned by minorities and women. That's even though the mayor's proposal wouldn't actually create any such programs, but simply create a study to determine if the city should.
"I said I was concerned that it would take away from the minorities and the women who's already trying to get contracts, which we don't have a nice percentage of already in this city," Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) said.
Burnett also has said he is worried about the possibility of someone pretending to be gay to exploit any contract incentive programs the city might establish for the LGBTQ community.
"I'm concerned about opening up another window for white males to manipulate the system, and take something away from African Americans, Hispanics, and real women contractors," he said.
Some aldermen also suggested those who would chiefly benefit from any possible LGBTQ contract set-asides would be gay white men, since businesses owned by women and minorities already have established incentive programs.
Burnett said, while transgender business owners likely face discrimination, "white gay males, I don't think they're discriminated against."
Ald. David Moore (17th) said his questions about the study were not answered sufficiently when the measure was approved in committee earlier this week.
"I want to make sure that the policy is right, and right now I'm not feeling that the policy is right, because I don't want to even hurt the very people that we're trying to help," he said.
Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th), a member of the council's LGBT caucus, even raised concerns about how the city would verify whether a company seeking to be verified as an LGBT business is indeed homosexual.
"The opportunity to be manipulated is very great for something that we have no test, have no documentation, have no way to verify. We know that we can verify ethnic origin. We know we can identify and verify sex, military status, and even if we're so bold one day to put a set-aside for ex-offenders, we can verify that, too. But how do you have the gay test?"
The mayor criticized the tone of the discussion of the study.
"It's not the questions that are the problem, it is the content of the questions, and the offensive nature of the tone and the questions and the 'concerns,' – in quotes – that were expressed," she said.
Lightfoot, the city's first openly gay mayor, and an African American, recalled times in her youth when she failed to speak up as people said harmful and offensive things about minorities and homosexuals in her presence.
"I bear the shame of my silence to this day," she said. "I will be silent no more on any issue. When people say and do things that are offensive and racist, I feel like I have an obligation to speak, and so I am."
The mayor said she was "disturbed" by the nature of the discussion about the study.
"My friends, the pie is big enough to slice it in lots of other ways. What we are asking for is data; a study to determine where we are. And, yes, of course we need to work on other issues, but we need not victimize, demonize, and discriminate through our words against anyone else, because we are worried about what the size of the pie is going to be for me," she said.
The mayor wasn't alone in expressing disappointment with the tenor of the debate.
Ald. Maria Hadden (49th), the only gay black alderman on the City Council, said "it is difficult to figure out whether to react with humor or with anger to this discussion."
"This is a study. We don't know problems until we're told problems, and if someone's coming up with a resolution, it means that we've had groups that say this is an issue. Discrimination is an issue; discrimination against black people, against Latinx people, against women, against disabled people, against people in the LGBT community. It just is. I don't think we need a study to tell us whether this is an issue," she said.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), the dean of the City Council's LGBT caucus, said the council couldn't afford to be so conflicted over what should be an innocuous research study.
"It's 2020, let's take a look at it, let's not be divisive. There's enough in this room that we could be divisive about, and that doesn't heal our city, and that doesn't bring people together," he said.
Following the debate, the council approved the study by a 47-1 vote, with Moore the only alderman voting "no."
After the meeting, the mayor told reporters the first step to determining if the city should provide any type of assistance to LGBTQ businesses in obtaining government contracts is gathering data.
The study will seek to determine how many such companies exist in various industries, how often they bid for city contracts, and how often they're awarded city work.
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