Chicago publication threatens to out five closeted alderman

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Chicago Dispatcher, a monthly trade publication for the taxi industry, is threatening to out five allegedly closeted gay and lesbian aldermen unless they support the industry’s agenda. 

In an editorial published online March 6 titled “Five Secretly Gay Aldermen,” publisher George Lutfallah threatened to disclose the allegedly gay aldermen’s names in next month's edition unless the city either bans commercial ride-sharing or subjects ride-share drivers to the same regulations that taxi drivers must follow.

In the editorial, Lutfallah also complained that many ride-share drivers are women. “The last place for a woman is behind the wheel,” he wrote. “If a woman needs a ride somewhere, she will only feel safe if the driver is a man."

In a bizarre aside, Lutfallah also demanded that the city change the name of Willis Tower back to Sears Tower and that the city ban use of the Internet in order to promote newspaper sales.

The bizarre content of the article sounds as if it was intended as joke. But Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of the statewide LGBT rights group Equality Illinois, said, “However this article was intended, it is no joking matter. Even if they’re trying to make this a joke, by creating this kind of content they’re contributing to homophobia in the city.”

“This strikes at the most personal and sensitive part of a person’s life,” Cherkasov added, calling the threat tantamount to blackmail. He said that Chicago’s LGBT community is deeply offended by the suggestion that there’s something shameful about being a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender public official. 

“We call on the publication to immediately retract its extremely offensive article and apologize to the city’s LGBT community, women drivers and customers, the City Council and the public at large,” Cherkasov said in a statement.

The Illinois Transportation Trade Association also issued a statement condemning the editorial.

“The ITTA and our affiliated taxi companies unequivocally condemn the piece that ran in today’s Chicago Dispatcher and the hateful message it sends,” ITTA officials wrote. “This misguided attempt at parody has no place in this discussion and demonstrates an extreme lack of judgment or sensitivity.

“This shameful editorial certainly does not represent the beliefs of our association, the thousands of hardworking employees in the transportation industry nor those of our valued customers.”

The anti-gay editorial could exacerbate tensions that already exist between cab companies and Chicago’s LGBT community. There have been at least two reported incidents in the past year in which people perceived to be gay have been ousted from taxis by the drivers.

Cherkasov said there was another reported incident in which a taxi driver shouted homophobic slurs from his cab to pedestrians.

Three openly gay or lesbian people serve on Chicago City Council — Tom Tunney, James Cappleman, and Deborah Mell. Cherkasov said he’s unaware of any closeted members of City Council.