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Jury selection in trial of Out actor Jussie Smollett begins

Smollett is facing six counts of disorderly conduct, a class 4 felony which carries a potential sentence of up to three years in prison

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Jussie Smollett
Jussie Smollett (Blade file screenshot)

CHICAGO – Selection of jurors to hear the case against actor Jussie Smollett commenced Monday in Cook County circuit court as prosecutors and defence attorneys questioned potential jury members over their exposure to the highly publicized case.

The Chicago Tribune reported that as of about 2:30 p.m.(Central), six people — four men and two women — had been selected for the jury. Judge James Linn then questioned 16 more, and attorneys were huddling in sidebar, discussing which of the most recent group to keep.

Smollett is facing six counts of disorderly conduct, a class 4 felony in Illinois which carries a potential sentence of up to three years in prison. Legal experts have told multiple media outlets that the 39-year-old actor will likely be placed on probation.

The case has stretched out over the past three years. The six counts are related to his alleged staging of a racist and homophobic attack hate crime on himself in 2019.

The former “Empire” star was previously indicted by Cook County prosecutors in February 2019 after law enforcement authorities alleged he had conspired with two black friends to stage the attack because he was dissatisfied with his salary from the Fox series and wanted to generate publicity to boost his career. In March, the charges against him were dropped, with little explanation from prosecutors – though at the time, presiding Judge Michael Toomin suggested that he could be charged again.

The second indictment comes from special prosecutor Dan Webb, who was appointed to the case by Toomin after the initial charges were dropped. In a statement, Webb said that Smollett was charged with six felony counts of disorderly conduct, connected to four separate false reports that he gave to police in which he claimed to be a victim of a hate crime “knowing that he was not the victim of a crime.”

The openly gay, black actor was originally charged with disorderly conduct after evidence emerged he had paid two acquaintances $3500 to help him stage an attack he reported to police on January 29, 2019. Smollett claimed he had been walking home when he was approached by two masked men making racist and homophobic insults, who beat him and looped a noose around his neck before fleeing. He also claimed that at least one of his attackers was white, and that they had told him he was in “MAGA country.”

Smollett arrived at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse around 9 a.m. Monday, walking past a phalanx of news cameras with his mother, Janet, sister Jurnee and brothers Jocqui and Jake, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

The paper also reported that Judge Linn limited the presence of media in the courtroom during the jury selection process, which the judge said should wind up later today. Linn also said jurors would stay as late as 7 p.m. during the trial, which he added should end this week or early next.

Linn also said he expected he would be able to seat a jury from the pool of 50 prospective jurors despite the international publicity surrounding a case that has been the subject of countless news stories and late-night comedy punchlines.

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Illinois

Exclusive: Chicago’s Out mayor describes Roe ruling as ‘gut punch’

Lori Lightfoot in 2019 became the first Black lesbian woman elected mayor of a major U.S. city, the nation’s third largest

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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (Photo courtesy of the Lori Lightfoot campaign)

CHICAGO – Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday said the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade was a “gut punch.”

“It wasn’t a surprise,” she told the Washington Blade during an exclusive interview. “This had been a 50-year quest for people who don’t want to recognize our rights and want to take us back to 1950s America, when our community was pushed very decidedly into the closet because we didn’t have protections — we certainly didn’t have marriage. That was inconceivable back then.”

“We didn’t have protections on employment, on housing and the basic rights of citizenship that we’ve come to really embrace and expect as Americans,” added Lightfoot.

Lightfoot in 2019 became the first Black lesbian woman elected mayor of a major U.S. city.

She noted Justice Clarence Thomas in his concurring opinion in the Roe decision said the Supreme Court should reconsider its decision in the Obergefell, Lawrence and Griswold cases that guarantee marriage equality and the rights to private, consensual sex and access to contraception respectively.

“Fuck Clarence Thomas,” said Lightfoot on Sunday when she spoke at Chicago Pride.

“I woke up yesterday morning feeling pretty sad for all the reasons that you would expect,” she told the Blade on Monday. “It was still inconceivable that we are now living in an America where all of us who have been empowered to teach and live our own authentic lives are now at risk in this country by the stroke of a pen and a radicalized right-wing majority on the court with seemingly little regard of the consequences.”

Lightfoot said the ruling’s “immediate impact” will be on women in “red states” and “states that have trigger laws” that ban abortion. Lightfoot added women of color and low-income women will be disproportionately impacted.

“You got to play the long game here,” she said. “Clarence Thomas clearly signaled what his intent is, which is when you talk about reconsidering Griswold, that’s the right to contraception access. They talk about reconsidering Lawrence in Texas. We know what that is. Well really, are gay men going to be in a position where they have to worry about cops breaking into their bedroom and try to haul them off to jail by engaging in a natural act of intimacy between consenting adults?”

“We are very much in the target, and the sights of this right-wing mob that feels like the only way that they can exercise their power is by taking ours,” added Lightfoot.

‘We’re going to respect your rights’

Lightfoot in May announced a “Justice for All Pledge” after Politico published a leaked draft of the Roe decision.

Her administration and the Chicago Department of Public Health pledged an additional $500,000 to “support access to reproductive healthcare for Chicagoans and patients seeking safe, legal care from neighboring states that have or ultimately will ban abortion if the Supreme Court decides to strike down Roe v. Wade, as outlined in the leaked decision.” The “Justice for All Pledge,” among other things, reaffirms Chicago will “fight for the rights of all people regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, age, religion, disability, national origin, ancestry, or sexual orientation.”  

“We will fight to ensure that no person will be attacked, assaulted, bullied, or discriminated against because of who they are, the choices they make regarding their bodily autonomy, or who they love,” reads the pledge.

“We have to be a beacon of light and hope across the country and particularly in the Midwest region,” said Lightfoot. 

She also encouraged LGBTQ people from Florida, Texas and other states that have passed homophobic and/or transphobic laws to consider moving to Chicago.

“We’re going to respect your rights,” said Lightfoot. “We’re going to allow you to live in an environment where you can live your true, authentic life without the worry of some radicalized right-wing legislature cutting off your rights. People have to start making choices.”

Lightfoot also challenged corporations to do more to support LGBTQ rights and their LGBTQ employees.

“Corporations have to start making choices,” she said. “All those nice little value statements on a corporate website, if you value your employees and their rights, you cannot be situated in states that are attacking everyone in our community.” 

“When you look at the fact that many of these states are attacking children and their families, that tells you there’s no floor, there’s no floor to which they will sink,” added Lightfoot. “It’s open season on us and we’ve got to respond.”

Mayor lacked role models ‘that looked like me’

Lightfoot lives in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood with her wife, Amy Eshleman, and their daughter.

She told the Blade that she met a transgender teenager from downstate Illinois during Chicago Pride. Lightfoot said she hugged her and her parents and she “just felt such joy.”

She said she “didn’t see any role models that looked like me” and “didn’t see a lot of gay and lesbian leaders on a national level or even at the local level” when she was younger. Lightfoot told the Blade in response to a question about how she feels about being the first Black lesbian mayor of a major U.S. city that there are now “so many more of us who are living our authentic lives.”

“One of the greatest gifts that we can give is to say to those young people, you’re going to be great,” she said. “Be who you are, embrace, embrace your authentic life. Because there’s always going to be a home for you. There’s going to be a village, a community that’s going to be supportive. That’s one of the things I think the most powerful statement that I can make as mayor, using my platform as mayor of the third largest city, to say to our young people, you’re always going to have a home here.”

Lightfoot earlier this month announced she is running for re-election in 2023.

Crime and the response to protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020 are among the issues over which Lightfoot has faced criticism.

She referenced efforts to make “real meaningful, permanent progress on public safety that we are doing here in our city against a lot of different headwinds” and economic development in low-income neighborhoods as two of her administration’s accomplishments. Lightfoot said she decided to run for a second term because “the work’s not done.”

“We have been through a lot, as every major city in the country has in these last three years, but we’ve persevered and continued to do really good work on behalf of the people and made a lot of progress,” she said. 

“I liken it to being a gardener,” added Lightfoot. “You till the soil, you plant the seeds, you want to be around to reap the harvest. And I want to make sure that the work that we put in place, that those roots are deep and strong and they continue to bear fruit for years and years to come, long after I fade from the scene.” 

Lesbian super PAC again endorses Lightfoot

LPAC endorsed Lightfoot’s initial mayoral campaign. The super PAC that supports lesbian candidates has once again backed her. 

“I am just grateful that they are ready to re-up for round two,” said Lightfoot.

“When we are present in those corridors of power, we bring a life of experience that is different than traditionally the straight white men that have populated these corridors of power,” she added. “We show up and we show up importantly for our community and that is critically important.”

LPAC Executive Director Lisa Turner in a statement to the Blade praised Lightfoot.

“When I think of the Black LGBTQ leaders serving in office like Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, I am filled with pride about the work LPAC has done to uplift women and support their campaigns,” said Turner. “We were the first national organization and LGBTQ organization to endorse Mayor Lightfoot in 2019, and we are proud to be the first again as she seeks re-election. LPAC’s unwavering support shows our commitment to not solely electing more LGBTQ women to office, but to elect LGBTQ women who represent the full diversity of our community.”

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Illinois

Chicago mayor exercises her 1A at Pride, vid-clip viral in right-wing spaces

Gregory Pratt, the Chicago Tribune reporter whose beat includes covering Mayor Lori Lightfoot and City Hall tweeted a video of the mayor

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Photo Credit: Twitter/Mayor Lightfoot

CHICAGO – Speaking to attendees at the Windy City’s Pride festivities this past weekend, Out Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot spotted a man wearing a pink tank-top that read, “Fuck Clarence Thomas” and incorporated the phrase into her remarks on stage.

Gregory Pratt, the Chicago Tribune reporter whose beat includes covering Mayor Lori Lightfoot and City Hall tweeted a video of the mayor which according to Pratt has now gone viral in right-wing spaces.

In another tweet Pratt clarified the incident:

Mayor Lightfoot on Monday afternoon after the Tribune article and Pratt’s tweet were active posted her take on Twitter:

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Illinois

Aurora Pride Parade will be held Sunday after city reverses its decision

The action followed a court hearing earlier Thursday when a judge upheld the city’s initial decision to revoke the Pride Parade permit

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Screenshot/YouTube WMAQ-TV NBC 5 Chicago

AURORA, Ill. – The 2022 Aurora Pride Parade in the City of Aurora, Illinois which looked as though it was scrapped after the City revoked the permit issued for the event, got an unexpected reprieve Thursday when the City reversed its permit revocation.

That action followed a court hearing earlier Thursday when a judge upheld the city’s initial decision to revoke the Pride Parade permit based on manpower shortages and not enough police officers to man the event as required.

Parade organizers represented by the ACLU of Illinois had announced their intent to file an emergency appear with the U.S. District Court to overturn the judge’s ruling.

In a surprise move the City reversed itself saying in a statement saying; “Even after an independent hearing officer upheld the City’s decision to revoke the Pride Parade permit based on manpower shortages, we continued our good faith efforts with the Aurora Police Department to secure the additional officers needed for the 2022 Aurora Pride Parade. The City didn’t just double down on our efforts; we tripled down by offering an unprecedented triple-time financial incentive to our officers, and the required number of police officers to secure the parade has been successfully attained.”

“Consequently, a rescission of permit revocation has been submitted to Aurora Pride, and the Aurora Pride Parade can proceed as planned for Sunday, June 12,” the city’s statement said.

A couple hours later, organizers announced on Twitter the permit had been reinstated.

The decision to revoke the permit had come after an uproar last month when Aurora Pride announced they would not allow police officers to march in the parade in full uniform or bring police vehicles which sparked serious controversy in this fairly liberal suburban Chicago city of 200,000 situated next to the conservative right-leaning city of Naperville, Ill.

Original story here.

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