We believe that the people of Downers Grove value equality, fairness, justice, and the freedom to be who we are and love who we love without discrimination or harassment. We reached out to all the candidates for the Village of Downers Grove Mayoral and council seats as well as District 99 school board candidates and asked them four questions. Below are their responses. (We have not yet received responses from all candidates but will update as more come in.)
1. Please describe how you would speak out and take action in support of LGBTQ+ people, as well as how you would speak out and take action against those using anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech and rhetoric.
VoDG Council candidates:
- Bob Barnett: I have prioritized Civil Rights during my service as Mayor and I believe that’s where our leadership has to start. The Village – and in particular the office of the Mayor – has the bully pulpit and thus the ability to help set a tone across the community.
I have set the tone establishing Civil Rights Week and Pride Month proclamations and recognitions affirming the Village’s commitment to inclusivity and setting expectations on how our residents can and should connect with each other.
I denounced threats of violence at our Library as their efforts at inclusive programming were attacked and I made clear for all the Villages commitment to civil rights, public safety and the autonomy of the Library Board when an unidentified individual mailed a threat with a bullet attached.
Time and again I’ve used my position from the dais, in public comment and through social media to make clear that the Village of Downers Grove will not tolerate those that seek to trample the civil rights of those who differ from them and I’ll continue to do so.
- Michael Davenport: I do not tolerate hate speech and rhetoric. I offer my record on the District 99 Board of Education as strong evidence that I not only speak out against hate and rhetoric, but act on initiatives to protect our LGBTQ+ community from it. I am very proud of our DEI work at D99 and you can expect me to continue to do the same if I’m elected to village council.
I strongly support efforts like your One Book, One Town community reading initiative. I believe that education is the answer to most of society’s ills. Learning more about each other is a great way to break down the barriers that divide us.
- Leslie Sadowski-Fugitt: I am proud to be on the council that reinstated our Human Services Commission, which can help address gaps that we see in this area, particularly knowing that LGBTQ+ youth are four times as likely to attempt suicide. I think that as community leaders we should always identify and speak out against hate speech. I have done so from the dais and from my social media, and I will continue to speak out against the hurtful speech and rhetoric and lead by example by advocating for diverse voices to be included in all Village discussions. I am all too aware that there are many in this Village who feel unsafe speaking up or applying for boards, commissions, and elected offices. It is our job as elected officials to set the tone for the Village and change that dynamic so those voices can once again be heard.
- Denise McCann: As Commissioner I will ALWAYS take action to address hate speech and rhetoric. Publicly. As a gay woman, and a mother, I appreciate our Village and the warm and inclusive community in which we raised our boys. As Commissioner I will, in any way that I can, address hate speech with respect and real information.
- Tammy Sarver: It is because of the hateful and violent reaction to the planned Drag Queen Bingo at our library last year that I felt compelled to even run for public office. Never in my life did I imagine becoming an elected official, as I have dedicated my life to education. And part of that education is bringing awareness to my students and the greater community about the discrimination that many marginalized communities continue to face in our country – including the LGBTQ+ communities. I will use my voice, if elected, to continue to speak out against hate, and to promote inclusivity in all forums where I can make an impact. Hateful speech and rhetoric against the LGBTQ+ communities should never be tolerated – “tolerate” is a word that at best means a tacit acceptance of hate, and at worst, a downright promotion of hate.
- Marshall Schmitt: At every opportunity, I will take whatever action is within my power both as Mayor and as a private citizen to affirm my support for the LBGTQ+ community.
My recent experience with this issue is extensive as I am the Chancellor (Chief Legal Officer) of the Wisconsin Conference of the United Methodist Church, which is undergoing a major schism over the issue of human sexuality. Beginning with my own church’s vote to be true to its values in supporting the LBGTQ+ community, I have helped lead my church communities to affirm that a person’s sexual preference and gender identity are one of many differences among us that need to celebrated for the perspectives, experiences, and insights that we bring to the Community. The Wisconsin Conference and my Downers Grove church have been leaders in recognizing that our differences are to be celebrated and blessed, never condemned.
Although as Mayor my influence over agencies, such as the Library, is for the most part indirect, that influence nevertheless can be impactful. The most obvious manifestation of that influence is in the appointment process for library trustees. They must be open-minded, chosen based on their ability to be aware of and put aside any personal or religious beliefs to make Downers Grove a welcoming , inclusive place for persons of all ages, genders, gender identities, races, economic backgrounds, cultures, and religions. Trustees should never be chosen based on personal loyalties or agendas. As Mayor, in considering appointments, I will listen to community input about potential appointees and avoid appointing those for whom the Community has identified concerns about extreme, hateful views.
The other way the Mayor can influence the debate over LBGTQ+ inclusion is to advocate for programs that enrich the entire Community by helping our youth sort out challenges, including in some cases their gender identities. We should not hide behind procedures and governmental structures as an excuse for not, in every conceivable way, doing what we can to implement inclusive programs that celebrate our differences.
Proclamations and events like Pride Month and Martin Luther King Day are important symbols. Without concrete action, however, they do little to address the deep-seated prejudices that burden not only the LBGTQ+ community, but other marginalized groups such as African Americans, the Hispanic community, and the homeless. The community discussion over the challenges that face us must extend beyond those faced by marginalized communities understanding that most all challenges can be truly overcome only if we all work together to root out inequity and to realize the endless potential before us as a Village. Setting a tone of inclusion is of course an important first step, but internalizing such a tone requires actions that demonstrate a commitment to the notion that inclusion is not a fad or merely politically correct; inclusion needs to be a way of life, which means providing educational programming, meaningful employment opportunities, and sincere acceptance of all groups that share some human characteristic. As Mayor and a citizen of this Village, I will continue to live a life that demonstrates such acceptance through my actions.
At the same time, I recognize that not everyone shares my views regarding the LBGTQ+ community. In addition to setting an example through my actions, I will work to empathize with those that have different views, no matter how contrary to my own, so that I might contribute to the continued positive evolution of society’s views regarding the LBGTQ+ community. Such empathy does not mean that I will ever condone or accept positions I believe are morally wrong. Most important, despite seeking such empathy, I will not tolerate, and will condemn unequivocally, hate and threats of violence. Such conduct must be condemned and squelched as soon as it surfaces.
We must find ways to prevent such conduct from achieving its goal of causing the Community to cancel programs of inclusion out of fear. We must find ways to protect everyone in the Community from expressions of hate and even the fear of violence. We must trust law enforcement to investigate and protect against violence to facilitate those programs that will enable us to become an inclusive place to live. Given the insidious power of hate, such goals are difficult to reach, and doing so will take time, but if the Community works together and communicates to the world that Downers Grove will not surrender to fear, freedom from fear can be achieved as a Community.
To an increasing number of our youth, it is natural to accept those that are different in some way, including people who are LBGTQ+. As I have stated on other occasions in the campaign, although we need to support our youth in sorting out their identities, we also need to learn from their ability to accept everyone for who they are without judgment.
- Martin Tully: There’s no room for hate, bigotry, or violence in our modern society. None. While some have said that the best way to address hurtful speech is with education and more speech, it also requires identifying and addressing the root causes of such hurtful speech and rhetoric. In this regard, the more of us who work together to come together, the more we all benefit.
As a member of my law firm’s DEI Committee, I understand and appreciate the very important role that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) play in the success of any responsible organization. They are critical not only to delivering high-value and quality service to our clients but also to honoring our commitment to my majority women-owned law firm’s core values. Among other things, this includes mindfully recruiting, including, and empowering members of the LGBTQ+ legal community with equitable opportunities for professional success and advancement within our firm.
When I served as Mayor of Downers Grove from 2011-2019, I sought out and encouraged diverse residents to apply to our numerous Village boards and commissions, recommended diverse candidates for appointment by the Village Council, and over time increased the diverse make-up of those boards and commissions. If elected, I will encourage the Village Council to pursue policies and practices of inclusion and collaboration among those with varied experiences and perspectives to generate more incisive and deeper insights on municipal issues.
District 99 School Board candidates:
- District 99 Slate – Kara Casten, Don Renner, Ken Dawson: Kara Casten, Don Renner and Ken Dawson are running as a slate for the D99 Board of Education. They are engaged parents, experienced professionals, and respected community leaders. They are aligned in their focus on ensuring academic excellence and an environment where all students feel welcome in D99. If elected to the D99 School Board, Casten, Renner, and Dawson will work to restore trust and respect among the school board, the superintendent and the community. A functional School Board is critical to enabling D99 to fulfill its mission to graduate students that are equipped to realize their potential and positively impact the community and the larger world.
2. What is your position on student access to books and materials in libraries and classrooms with LGBTQ+ themes or content?
VoDG Council candidates:
- Michael Davenport: Simple. It’s very bad policy to limit student access to books unless the books are unlawful for minors to access them. If we start limiting student access to LGBTQ+ themed books, what’s next? Where do we draw the line? As a leader, I need to consider ALL the potential ramifications of banning student access to materials, not just those concerning LGBTQ+ themes and content. Further, limiting student access to good information about LGBTQ+ themed books and materials will only cause students to go looking for information in other, perhaps less beneficial places. This is especially a concern for those students who have abusive, absent, or unsupportive parents. Students need safe places to learn. Libraries are one of those safe places.
- Leslie Sadowski-Fugitt: I fully support student access to books and materials that represent all parts of humanity. As a resident of D99, I spoke out in favor of keeping Gender Queer and other similar titles. As a Council member, I will stand by those actions and believe that we should never prevent access to representation in books and other media.
- Denise McCann: I believe that it is a right to have access to literature in all of its forms at our libraries. In response to classrooms, that is way out of my role as Commissioner. That would necessarily be a curriculum decision.
- Tammy Sarver: Every student should have access to LGBTQ+ themed books and materials in libraries and classrooms, just as they should have access to books and materials about cisgender themes. History has shown us that banning books is one step closer to tyranny.
- Marshall Schmitt: Other than being age inappropriate, no book should be banned from a library because its content addresses discrimination or issues related to being LBGTQ+. The strength of our society arises in large part from the free flow of ideas and access to different viewpoints and our history. What is age appropriate must be determined by scientific evidence and criteria, not by personal opinions and religious beliefs. Age appropriateness cannot become a surrogate for imposing any group’s value system on our youth. Again, as I have said on other occasions, we must teach our youth not what to think, but how to think. That requires that we trust them to synthesize the available information in light of their own experiences and personalities. Guiding our youth to find their path, not trying to dictate their path, leads to independent, thriving adults.
It is important to understand, however, that this issue extends beyond LBGTQ+ content. There are innumerable issues that require our children reach their own conclusions. By focusing on LBGTQ+ issues to the exclusion of others, we create the impression that LBGTQ+ issues are somehow unique, perhaps contributing to the misguided arguments of some that those issues and the LBGTQ+ community require special scrutiny. Such is not the case. Over the course of history, many populations have been, and continue to be, the target of hate, violence and discrimination, such as persons of Jewish, African American, Asian, and Hispanic descent. This country, this Village, and their institutions must be open to all populations and a fair and honest exploration of their history. Banning books based on content precludes such exploration and stifles growth.
- Martin Tully: Candidly, this question is better addressed to those who have direct decision-making authority over the contents of programs and curricula. As you know, the local school boards and administration collaborate on those issues with the input of – and accountability to – the residents of our community. Likewise, our local library has its own board members and a seasoned director who respond directly to their constituents. The Village Council does not play a role in those decisions, nor should they. However, I am pleased to see that some of the Downers Grove Library’s current board members are still among those that I recommended for an appointment during my prior years of service on the Village Council.
- Bob Barnett: My focus is on municipal government in Illinois as it relates to the law, legal responsibilities, liabilities, State standards, professional standards, community standards and best practices. Neither the Mayor nor the Village have authority over library or classroom materials across our community. We also do not have authority over programming or curriculum in our Library or schools.
That said, the access to information – particularly information of a diverse viewpoint – is critical to a free society. It’s directly related to the common free speech issues which your Village takes seriously and which I’ve personally worked to defend.
District 99 School Board candidates:
- District 99 Slate – Kara Casten, Don Renner, Ken Dawson: All students should feel welcome in D99 regardless of race, color, national origin, gender identify or disability. This means seeing themselves represented in the curriculum and in books in the D99 libraries. The curriculum and library books are selected by professional educators. Teachers in D99 have 15 years of experience on average and 85% have a graduate or master’s degree and should continue to be trusted and supported to educate students so they graduate equipped to realize their potential and positively impact the community and the larger world.
3. Please describe how you will actively advance programming and initiatives to support and protect the LGBTQ+ community, as well as other marginalized groups.
VoDG Council candidates:
- Leslie Sadowski-Fugitt: We did hire a social worker in the Village to help connect residents to services they may need, and I am in favor of increasing funding in this area to ensure that everyone is cared for (as mentioned in my first answer). But that’s just the band aid on a bigger wound. We need to enthusiastically support our partner organizations, including the library, when they offer inclusive programming. I use my Council Member Report at times to share those opportunities with residents, as well as give credit to our many institutions who are walking the walk. In addition to that, I was the Commissioner who introduced our DEI priority action item in 2021. The internal portion of it is currently underway after having hired a consultant, and resulted in increased diversity in hiring in 2022, and is more reflective of the demographics who live in Downers Grove. In the coming year we will be determining what the external portion should look like. I believe we can do a better job of reflecting the demographics of our Village in board/commission appointments, and can also examine our policies around prioritizing minority-owned businesses and attracting business owners from diverse backgrounds.
- Denise McCann: As Commissioner I will continue to support the current DEI efforts. But I will say this….as a gay woman….if you want to change LGBTQ+ narrative and policy, I urge ANY and ALL LGBTQ+ members to actively run for office, join a committee, join a board. I am putting my money where my mouth is so to speak. I am running for Village Council. I believe that there is no better place to initiate change than from within.
- Tammy Sarver: I, myself, am a trained “Safe Space Ally” and serve in that capacity at my University. I also believe that education is key, as it is often things unknown or not understood by humans that drive them to fear and irrational behaviors. I would offer to bring in certified “Safe Space” trainers to speak at public events in order to help people understand and thereby provide the tools necessary for them to support marginalized communities like the LGTBQ+ communities.
I would also work to ensure that we continue to fund our Village’s Human Services Commission to ensure it has the resources to reach out to the growing demands of our community. However, not only is mental health support important, so is “social health” support; planning affordable spaces for people to live in our village is another step towards achieving equity in a time when the divide between rich and poor becomes greater and greater.
- Marshall Schmitt: As an initial matter, the Mayor can advocate for such programs and work with government and community institutions, such as the Library, Village agencies and Commissions, the police and fire departments, Village staff, churches, and social service agencies, to help create and implement programs and initiatives that support and protect all marginalized groups.
The other way in which the Mayor can lead in this regard is to create opportunities for the Community to engage in rational, civil discussion about ways to support and protect all marginalized groups. Such opportunities must be structured and timed carefully to further the discussion rather than devolving into shouting matches and threats fueled by extremists. Village leaders, most importantly the Mayor, need to be strong enough to facilitate meaningful discussions while refusing to accept bad behavior and allowing public meetings to be derailed by hate. Being afraid to create programs and forums to support marginalized groups represents one form of surrendering to the fear and the hate. Protecting everyone in the Community requires we never surrender.
It is no simple task to counter hate and overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles, but given my experience in the almost 50 years I have lived in this Village, I have faith, no I know, that this Community is up to the task. It is that kind of fortitude in the face of difficult challenges that led Pierce Downer to venture here from the East, bring his family to join him, and create a life that gave rise to the Village itself. Passing away as he dug his wife’s grave on the North side of town, he could never have imagined what this Village has become. But if he can leave the legacy that we all enjoy today, we can leave an even more important legacy for our children and future residents of this Village by ensuring the Village is inclusive for all people for as long as the Village exists.
- Martin Tully: Each organization has its critical mission and a defined lane in which it operates. The Village of Downers Grove has many responsibilities that are critical to the functionality and success of our entire community. In this respect, I see our main goal as providing a solid foundation upon which others can build, grow, succeed, and thrive. Accordingly, where I think the Village can best contribute to the success of programming and initiatives in support of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as other marginalized groups, is to continue to address those basics very well. That is, continue to provide a safe, welcoming, and thriving environment for everyone to succeed and feel welcome. If elected, I would continue my prior practice of seeking out collaboration opportunities with other entities, agencies, and public-private partnerships to advance our goals and elevate the quality of life for all.
- Bob Barnett: We take our role seriously as an employer and in the environment our ordinances and policies create. To that end, our Board and Commission member appointments over the last four years represent the broadest cross-section of our community ever, including greater representation of, and participation by, traditionally marginalized groups. Additionally, in 2021 the Village began a focused DEI effort to attract and retain a diverse team, create opportunities for all and celebrate differences. We are already seeing results from this effort as your Village Staff is also more diverse than it has ever been.
I’ve helped lead a culture that holds people first – a value that will continue to drive my decision making as Mayor.
Downers Grove is committed to doing our part to ensure all members of our community feel safe and wanted. We train and learn, learn and train and then do it again. Implicit and explicit biases are uncovered, identified and then tools to adjust and improve are learned and tested across our organization.
Organizational culture matters and I couldn’t be prouder of the culture I’ve helped grow both as a community and a municipal government.
If re-elected Mayor, I’ll continue to lead and ensure your Village Government is an organization that defends and protects the rights of all and leads by example in what we say, what we value and prioritize and how we treat all members of our community.
- Michael Davenport: The current job postings on the village’s website state that “the Village of Downers Grove is an Equal Opportunity Employer”. This means more to me than just a legal requirement for hiring practices. It’s an ideal we should strive to uphold in our policies and processes. I will aim to ensure our village employees and the volunteers who serve on our numerous boards and commissions know that they are supported and deeply appreciated. Further, I believe our employees and volunteers should be a reflection of our community as a whole. Diversity is an asset and we’d be foolish not to embrace it.
District 99 School Board candidates:
- District 99 Slate – Kara Casten, Don Renner, Ken Dawson: In addition to seeing themselves represented in the D99 curriculum and books in the D99 libraries all students, especially marginalized groups, need to see themselves reflected in the teachers, staff, and administrators and in extracurricular activities. The diversity of D99 is an amazing opportunity for students to develop understanding, respect, and empathy for others. This is evident by the dozens of student-led clubs at D99, including the Black Student Union, the Latinx Student Union, the Asian American Pacific Islander Student Union, Circle of Friends (students with disabilities), and Prism (LGBTQ+ community and allies) to name a few.
4. How will you respond to state and local efforts to roll back LGBTQ+ rights, along with other civil rights and liberties?
VoDG Council candidates:
- Denise McCann: As Commissioner, I will vehemently oppose rolling back the rights and liberties that have taken far too long to gain.
- Tammy Sarver: I am strongly against any governmental efforts to roll back on civil rights and individual liberties. And while most of those attempts do happen at the state level, we are lucky in Illinois that our legislative bodies have not taken actions doing so – and we must all continue to work hard (vote, activism) to make sure it stays that way. I feel that any discrimination or roll back against marginalized communities is more subtle at the local level where our policy making roles are limited. However, I do believe that the members of the board and other elected officials must be aware of biases, unconscious or otherwise, that may be built into policies, and try to check those at the door.
- Marshall Schmitt: As Mayor, I will use my voice to oppose any federal, state, or local effort to roll back any civil rights that hinder a person’s ability to realize their full potential. This includes communicating with legislators at all levels to articulate the evils of depriving any group a right based on, for example, a person’s color, gender, gender identity, sexual preference, ethnicity, or political or religious beliefs.
I will seek to create programs and hiring practices that highlight the value of openness and a variety of opinions and perspectives in addressing the problems of the day.
I will foster open dialogue within the Community and highlight the achievements of all our citizens to dispel any notion that a person is somehow limited or unworthy because of who they are. This includes seeking the advice and perspectives of community members from all populations in our Community before deciding what positions to advocate before the Council and in public. Such decisions are complex, and no one person is an expert on all issues, but the best results will be achieved by engaging everyone in a dialogue.
In short, besides direct advocacy at the federal, state, and local levels, the best way to defeat efforts to roll back rights is to demonstrate how doing so will only cripple, rather than empower, the Community.
- Martin Tully: In my 16 years of prior service in the Village Council, I cannot identify a single instance of any local municipal attempt to roll back the civil liberties or rights of any individuals or identified community. Nor do I see that ever happening in our town. To the contrary, we’ve had members of the LGBTQ+ community serve on our Village Council with the direct ability and opportunity to protect those rights, if needed.
As a municipality, we do not have occasion to debate or lobby on such topics as do those at the state or federal level. However, to the extent that they impact municipal issues and can be a component of lobbying through partners such as the DuPage Mayors & Managers Conference, I am confident that we would support and advocate for the freedom of everyone to be who they are and love who they love without discrimination or harassment.
- Bob Barnett: I’d welcome additional information and specifics on this question – from the provision of municipal services to property rights and the enforcement of criminal law or municipal code, I’m simply unaware of any specific legislation or efforts that affect municipal governance, operations or law that are working to roll back the rights of any group or individual.
I would suggest that the Village has taken an increasingly firm stance on civil rights. During my tenure, I have often said that I believe the Village’s role – perhaps it’s first calling – is to defend civil rights and liberties and day in and day out from civil protest to municipal code we have both clarified and defended those rights.
As your Mayor, I agree with EQDG’s comment below and I can assure you that your Village and your Village Council – to a person – believes that the residents of Downers Grove value equality, fairness, justice and the freedom to be who they are and love who they love without discrimination or harassment.
- Michael Davenport: My response will remain the same as it’s been: standing firm in my resistance, both in words and action. In the last few years on the school board, I’ve endured a small fraction of the hateful speech and rhetoric that too many marginalized people endure…every…single…day of their lives. I will continue to speak out and support the rights of all of us to love who we want to love, live as we choose, and be who we are – not who others think we should be.
- Leslie Sadowski-Fugitt: I will always speak out against any efforts that seek to roll back LGBTQ+ an civil rights. As elected municipal leaders, we must consider how each of our ordinances and resolutions may have implicit biases baked in, as we know that many of our power structures in the US were built in the time of slavery. One area where I see this come into play at a local level is the need for affordable housing. In the past, councils have stereotyped those who need affordable housing and voted against making it more available in the Village, and because of that Downers Grove is rapidly becoming unaffordable for many. The new council has a great opportunity with the sale of Village land in the next phase of our facilities project to ensure that in the request for proposals we include a requirement for at least some affordable housing. I will continue to listen, read, and learn to ensure that I am not injecting my implicit biases into decisions and recognize that it is a lifelong effort that requires sitting in my own discomfort.
District 99 School Board candidates:
- District 99 Slate – Kara Casten, Don Renner, Ken Dawson:Parental review of curriculum would be detrimental to D99, making it difficult to retain and attract top teachers. It would damage D99’s reputation, deterring families from moving to the community. The School Board represents the voices of the community and sets the policies of the district. The Board’s role related to curriculum is mainly to: 1) Adopt and assess goals that meet the state requirements and reflect the community’s needs and 2) Approve purchases, contracts, curriculum, textbooks and personnel appointments. The teachers at D99 have an average 15 years of education experience and 85% have a graduate or master’s degree. These are the people that we should continue to trust and support to develop educational curriculum for D99 students.