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A few minutes with Equality Illinois’ Mony Ruiz-Velasco

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Mony Ruiz-Velasco is the newest staff member at Equality Illinois, the state’s largest LGBTQ rights group. She started this month as the new deputy director for the organization. She took a few minutes to answer a few questions for the Illinois Eagle.

Illinois Eagle: Tell us a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up and where did you go to college?

Mony: I am a queer Mexican woman. I grew up both in Mexico and in south Texas and have been in Chicago for more than 20 years. I have three children and live with my partner, Denise. My family moved back and forth a lot between the US and Mexico when I was younger. I settled more permanently in the US when I started high school. I went to college in Corpus Christi Texas and to law school at St Mary’s University School of Law. I was a nerdy kid who loved to read and hang out with adults. Now, I guess, I’m a nerdy adult who still loves to read. I also love to cook for my family and my friends.

Illinois Eagle: Where did you work before starting at Equality Illinois?

Mony: I have been doing immigrant justice work for the past 25 years. I started out as a lawyer providing direct legal representation to hundreds of immigrants and asylum seekers. Over time, the scope changed and I was fortunate to be able to do more systemic, transformational work including organizing and policy work. I have experience working at the local, state and federal levels. Within my immigrant justice work, my focus was on women, LGBTQ communities, children, crime victims, and other vulnerable populations.

Illinois Eagle: What drives your activism?

Mony: Love and a desire to work collectively towards a world where everyone can thrive. There are so many barriers people face, and I am convinced that survival is not enough. As a Mexican queer woman, there were so many layers of oppression I faced as a woman, as a Latina, and as a queer person. It has taken years for me to break through some of those layers, most of which you never completely shed, and my activism is fueled by the desire to work collectively, in community and with love and joy to create a more equitable and healthy society where people can thrive in joy, being who they are, living where they want and loving who they love.

Once I found my voice, there was just no other choice for me.

Illinois Eagle: Illinois has some of the most progressive and LGBTQ friendly laws in the Midwest. What are some of the challenges that still face the state’s LGBTQ community?

Mony: Illinois has absolutely made great strides in ensuring protections for LGTBQ communities. I think that we also need to see LGBTQ people holistically. Our needs are not only connected to our LGBTQ identity and we still have a lot of work to do in that respect. We cannot achieve full inclusion and protection by only ensuring protection of a part of who we are. I think we need to deeply listen to the voices of our trans and LGBTQ communities of color to ensure that we are working to meet their needs as there is no such thing as partial liberation. For example, LGBTQ folks of color still lack access to affirming medical services, are disproportionately policed (especially trans black folks), and experience homelessness.

Illinois Eagle: What are some ways the Chicago area and downstate Illinois work together on civil rights?

Mony: There are queer folks and queer folks of color all over the state. Listening to each other and working together will be the only way to achieve systemic changes to benefit our communities. Equality Illinois works across the state to elevate the voices of LGBTQ people throughout the state. It is also important that we work across communities to support each other and for the benefit of all. We hope to serve as a bridge between communities and locations to come together understanding our needs and building power to make the changes we need to support each other in leading healthy and thriving lives.

Illinois Eagle: What are some of your future plans with your new position?

Mony: I am excited to bring all of who I am, my experiences, and expertise into this new role. I look forward to collaborating with communities across the state to support their efforts locally and build power at the state level to work to achieve equity for LGBQ communities throughout the state. It is important to me that Latinx, Black and other communities of color see themselves included and a part of Equality Illinois’ agenda and work. I also hope to create more visibility for LGBTQ Latinx communities, and in particular queer Latinx women, given my role at Equality Illinois.

Illinois Eagle: Is there anything you’d like the LGBTQ to know about the work being done?

Mony: Equality Illinois is very intentional about the work we are doing. We are deeply committed to ensuring that those who are most impacted are leading and directing the work. We are excited about working with our partners throughout the state and the city of Chicago to elevate the voices of LGTBQ people. I look forward to engaging with our amazing statewide network partners in Peoria, Bloomington-Normal, Springfield, and Carbondale.

Another area of Equality Illinois’ statewide advocacy that I want to highlight involves LGBTQ representation in roles of public leadership. Following up on our LGBTQ Public Service Law from 2017, Equality Illinois has been working with the Governor’s Office to advance LGBTQ inclusion among gubernatorial appointments to state boards and commissions. This year, we advocated for legislation (SB 1730) that will require corporations in Illinois to annually report out on the LGBTQ demographics of their boards of directors. We want to ensure qualified LGBTQ people in Illinois are comfortable lending their talents, skills, and authentic selves to roles of public leadership and then being able to shape affirming policies and practices

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