Republican LGBT rights supporter and former Illinois gubernatorial candidate dies at 70

Louis Weisberg, Staff writer

A gay rights group is mourning the death of Republican Illinois Comptroller and former state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Judy Baar Topinka. Topinka died last week at age 70 after suffering a stroke.

Equality Illinois said in a statement that Topinka demonstrated political affiliations shouldn’t be a barrier to reaching out to all citizens.

Topinka was known for her outoing, upbeat personality and love of shopping at thrift and resale stores, often with gay friends in tow. She never met a stranger.

In 2006, the former Chicago Free Press, which was then Illinois’ largest and most influential LGBT newspaper, endorsed Baar-Topinka over Rod Blagojevich for governor.

In its endorsement editorial, CFP wrote: “We trust Topinka to do the right thing on GLBT issues. She’s never broken her word to our community in the past, no matter who it’s upset. And we also trust her to give us honest government. That should be as important to GLBTs as it is to all other Illinoisans.”

Blagojevich won the race and subsequently went to prison after a high-profile case of corruption. In October, he completed the second year of a 14-year sentence in federal prison for using political appointments to raise money and steering government contracts to donors, also known as “pay to play.”

The latter is common practice on both sides of the aisle in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker recently announced an ambitious but unneeded windfall of highway construction projects to be paid for by tax hikes and bonds. Walker has benefitted from enormous campaign contributions by roadbuilders in the state.

Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov called Topinka a leader in supporting issues important to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Illinoisans. He said she endorsed same-sex marriage in Illinois and even offered to be a flower girl for any same-sex couple that would have her.Cherkasov also said Topinka opened her office to Equality Illinois’ delegation on the group’s annual Springfield lobbying days. He says she regularly attended Chicago’s Pride Parade and the group’s annual galas.