BUSHNELL — Emiliano Vera hopes to be the first out gay state representative from outside the Chicago metro area.
Most of Illinois’s out elected officials are in Cook County and surrounding collar counties. There are a few LGBTQ local office holders in Central and Eastern Illinois, mostly in the larger downstate metro areas. However, Vera will be the first in the far western part of the state and first to be elected to the statehouse from downstate.
The 26-year-old Bushnell native announced his candidacy for State Representative in Illinois’ 93rd District back in June. The district is anchored by Macomb, home of Western Illinois University, and Galesburg, home of KnoxCollege. In between are a lot of rural areas and small towns, not always an easy area for an LGBTQ candidate. Vera took time from a busy weekend of campaign to answer a few questions.
Illinois Eagle: How as the reaction been so far?
Vera: The reaction has been very positive overall, especially among people in my hometown, people within the local and state Democratic Party, local Democratic voters, young people, and working-class people who typically don’t trust “politics”. I have had some racist heckling online for being Latino, with one person telling me to “go back to Mexico” and another asking if I was a DACA recipient.
IE: If you win, you’ll be the first out LGBTQ state legislator outside of the Chicago metropolitan area. Do you find that intimidating or exciting?
Vera: My neighbor just asked me about that today – if I worried that running as an openly gay candidate would hurt my chances. I told him that people would find out sometime and I would rather wear it as a part of my identity than have it come out as a “scandal” leaked by my opponents. Remember, my former congressman was the (barely) closeted anti-LGBTQ Republican Aaron Schock. It’s important for me to define my own story before I let others do it for me. And conversations like this one prove to me every day that I can’t do anything less than be openly and proudly LGBTQ – my neighbor told me later that his 13 year old had recently come out as trans.
My hometown had its parade on Thursday, and my campaign made history by being the first group to fly a pride flag in a parade in Bushnell. So many people smiled and shouted support, especially kids and young adults. The only negativity I saw was an old man who grumbled about socialism.
Being out and proud might make things harder, but I need to be visible so that queer people in my community know that they aren’t alone. And when you show up for people, they will show up for you.
IE: Your district includes both college towns and conservative rural areas. What are some of the challenges you’re seeing as you campaign?
Vera: Obviously, running against an incumbent that has $200k in the bank right now is going to be a big challenge for someone running a grassroots, working class campaign. But my bigger fear is that there will be too many people just who won’t trust what another politician is selling them. People are tired of getting burned, and I don’t blame them. Running an unapologetically working-class campaign and not taking money from corporations means that you have to do the slow work of talking to the majority of working people who have mostly dropped out of the political process. I think my campaign is the first time in a long time any candidate has declared their loyalties as clearly as I have – now I’ve got to do the work to show I mean what I say.
IE: Are you getting any support for the Democratic Party?
Vera: I’m a Democratic precinct committeeperson and have been focusing this early part of the campaign to organizing the existing Democratic base in the area. Simply getting other committeepersons to go out and walk with me in their precincts has already given Democratic voters who haven’t been contacted in decades a new energy. But as I talk to more independent voters, I’ve been clear that my goal is first to organize a working-class movement. It is the responsibility of the Democratic Party to show that it is able to be a champion of working people, not one that gives us the crumbs of what they negotiate with their wealthy donors. So, in this respect, I am not just trying to win more potential Democratic voters, but also change the Democratic Party into a truly working class party.
IE: Along with winning (obviously) what are some of the goals you have in this campaign?
Vera: By running as young, openly gay and Latino, I hope to bring visibility and hope to people who are usually ignored here. I’ve talked about how Democrats have to be actively anti-racist and can’t tolerate tacit, pandering racism out of downstate Democratic candidates anymore. Nor can we settle for a rainbow capitalism where “equality” means that a few ritzy white gay men get to be visible in big cities while rural queer people live in poverty along with everyone else in our working-class communities. Building an inclusive campaign is necessary if we’re going to make a broad working-class movement – that broad working class movement is my biggest goal.
Vera’s campaign site is at https://www.voteverail.org/meet-emiliano.
Note: This has been updated to correct Galesburg College to Knox College. We regret the error.
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