Efforts to sign up voters may help `gay rights' measure in Chicago

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The champion register of voters here is neither a ward heeler nor a foot soldier of Jesse Jackson. Norm Sloan of the Lesbian-Gay Progressive Democratic Organization has signed up 7,000-plus voters single-handedly in recent months.

Mr. Sloan says his group, which has registered more than 13,000 voters, accounts for more than 10 percent of all voters registered here since March. His efforts are one reason why chances of passing a ``gay rights'' measure here have improved.

With mayoral elections likely next year and homosexuals demonstrating political clout, more aldermen have jumped on the bandwagon of the controversial law, which would ban discrimination against homosexuals and other groups. Mayor Eugene Sawyer is also supporting the ordinance more actively.

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But alderman from wards where black Protestant churches campaign against the measure led fierce opposition at the last vote.

Alderman Robert Shaw, who represents a mainly middle-class, black ward on the South Side, waved his Bible during a recent tumultuous City Council debate, at the end of which proponents of the law chanted, ``Shame! Shame!''

Mr. Shaw says that homosexuality is immoral and that passage of the ordinance would encourage its practice.

The proposal was recently defeated in the City Council by a 26-21 vote, compared to a 30-18 defeat in 1986. Supporters say they'll be back this week to ensure its passage. New York and Los Angeles already have similar ordinances, says Council staff member Dan Crowe.

Mr. Crowe says potential opposition from the city's Roman Catholic church leaders has been diffused by changing the wording of the proposal, extending anti-discrimination measures to other groups and including religious exemptions.

Crowe says it's ``ironic'' that opposition at the last vote was most vocal from certain black aldermen who support other civil-rights measures.

Laurie Dittman of the Gay and Lesbian Town Meeting says the ordinance would extend ``basic civil rights.'' ``A lot of the same arguments [against the measure] were used 20 years ago against blacks.''

But Shaw says it is a moral, not a civil-rights issue. ``I don't know of a single church in my community that supports this measure,'' he says.

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