Cherkasov: focus not on the personalities, but on full equality

Tue. December 21, 2010 4:57 PM by Brett Anthony

bernard cherkasov

EQIL CEO encourages community not to be distracted, divided and unfocused

Chicago, IL - spoke to Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov Tuesday afternoon, in what are his first public statements following the release of Rick Garcia last week from the gay rights advocacy group.

Garcia, the former political director of Equality Illinois, was fired last Thursday, Dec. 16. and has since gone public with harsh criticism of Cherkasov and the organization he co-founded in 1992.

Brett Anthony: Why was Rick Garcia fired?

Cherkasov: The contemplation that went into this and the actions that were taken under consideration we will not be able to address publicly.

Anthony: You are most-likely unable to address this question; however, Rick contends some of the problems lead back to his vocal criticism of Howard Brown Health Center and a call you received from Jamal Edwards - is that where much of this began?

Cherkasov: Well, I have to say that I think you are right that personal matters are not for public discussions. We would treat all our other employees and former employees with that same respect and not vet those internal issues in the public.

Anthony: That said, do you have any regrets on the timing of letting Rick go - so soon after the passage of historic civil unions legislation?

Cherkasov: There is never a good time for such a difficult decision. Rick clearly has been one of the earliest advocates for LGBT equality in Illinois. He has been fighting alongside with Art Johnston and with a number of others for equal rights for our community long before that was popular and safe. So this was not an easy decision or a rash one and there is never a good time for it.

Anthony: In an interview with the Windy City Times, Rick describes a situation last Friday where police were called to remove him from the Equality Illinois office after he returned and refused to leave. Rick says you are making this nasty.

Cherkasov: From the beginning I have expressed my upmost hope to keep this professional and amicable. That remains my upmost hope. I think that our board of directors and I have shown that our disinterest in engaging in the politics of personal destruction. They are not helpful, they are not productive and they are not helping the mission of our community. So my intention is to continue to ignore the remarks of personal nature.

Anthony: Do you have any regrets?

Cherkasov: Actually, it's so funny you say that. It was so heartening to see that our community was so focused over the past several days, particularly over the weekend on the repeal of don't ask don't tell. We had a number of our community activists getting the word out that our Sen. Durbin, who was a co-sponsor of legislation, hears positive encouragement from us, that our Senator Kirk, who's position was unknown on this issue, that he heard from us that this is an important issue. In fact, we understand from Senator Kirk's office that our supporters and Equality Illinois members jammed Senator Kirk's phone lines with their calls of urgency and support for the repeal of DADT. So I think that while some people in the media have tried to divert the attention from our agenda to our personal issue, I think our community has been really strongly focused on what is at stake for our community which is our political and legal gains.

Anthony: Rick is a well-known and respected advocate in the community. How have you addressed critics angry over his release?

Cherkasov: The mission of our movement is urgent and we have to focus on the strengths of our mission. We have to focus not on the personalities of the actors in the movement, but what's at the end result and our goal is full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Illinois. We have to keep our eyes on the prize and not be distracted, divided and unfocused.

I do take the conversation of the community seriously. Anyone who has called our office and who has wanted to speak to me, I've spoken to them. I have helped them understand that our agenda and our focus on LGBT equality is unwavering.

Anthony: What kind of calls and feedback are you receiving in the office?

Cherkasov: I'm extremely encouraged by the type of support that we've received from the key stakeholders in our movement, from so many of our volunteers and supporters. They understand this is not about me, this is not about any single person, any single actor in this movement, this is about full equality for LGBT people and we need to all play a role in bringing that about.

Anthony: Rick contends that he is the co-founder of Equality Illinois and that you can't take it away from him.

Cherkasov: I agree with Rick, he was one of the co-founders of what is now Equality Illinois. I honor him for all of the work that he has done in fighting for LGBT equality alongside with his fellow co-founders and fellow activists. I recognize the strong leadership that Art and Rick and so many others have put into this movement and I really really value that.

I hope as the dust settles and we're able to look at the bigger picture that we'll have an opportunity to honor Rick and the other early activists for everything that they have done to bring Illinois where we are today.

Anthony: Have you heard from Art?

Cherkasov: Yes, Art and I are in constant contact.

Anthony: Where does Equality Illinois go from here?

One of the first things that we are doing is focusing on protecting civil unions and making sure that Illinois Family Institute and their already-announced agenda of repealing civil unions that it is unsuccessful. Our goal is to protect civil unions and make sure they are implemented as the legislators intended for them to be implemented.

Something else that we are really going to role out in the coming weeks and month is our very assertive agenda for transgender equality. We are going to make sure that transgender issues, which have often by other organizations have been pushed aside, are really at the forefront of all that we do in the coming year and the years to come.

Also, we are going to continue building bridges with communities of faith. Over the past year and a half or maybe two years, we have built a strong program of engaging ordained clergy and people of faith in their work for LGBT equality. And we're going to continued doing that in the coming year and the years to come.

We're going to roll out additional programs focusing on people of color, making sure that we build strong bridges of support and with others parts of the progressive community.

I do want to thank all of your readers and members and supports of Equality Illinois who in these days of distraction have really focused on the goals of our agenda, which is full equality for LGBT people.

Related: Read more about Rick Garcia's fiery interview