McKeon, a Democrat who has AIDS, says health issues prompted him to step down from his seat in the state General Assembly
CHICAGO State Rep. Larry McKeon, the first openly gay member of the General Assembly, said Monday that he will retire when his term ends in January in part because of his health.
The 62-year-old Chicago Democrat, who has AIDS and has had cancer, has recommended that committeemen choose Illinois Commission on Human Rights attorney Jim Snyder to replace him on the November ballot. There is no Republican challenger.
Fellow lawmaker, state Rep. John Fritchey, said public perceptions have changed since McKeon first was elected in 1996.
“He may have gone in there as the first openly gay state legislator but he is leaving as a very good legislator who happened to be gay,” said Fritchey, a Chicago Democrat.
McKeon said his health was not the “controlling part” part of his decision to step down, but it did accelerate the process by about a year.
Diagnosed a year ago with colorectal cancer, McKeon said there is no longer any evidence of the disease. He said he got HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, about 20 years ago.
In retirement, McKeon said he was looking forward to traveling in his 34-foot motor home.
“It’s really roughing it,” McKeon said of the vehicle that’s equipped with a shower, queen-size bed and central heat and air.
Democratic committeemen will choose McKeon’s replacement and have until the end of August to submit their nomination to the state Board of Elections.
McKeon said he recommended Snyder because he has worked closely with him as a volunteer and calls him his “alter ego.”
“He knows the district, he knows the issues that I care about and he’s committed to those issues” McKeon said.
During his time in office, McKeon has been a leader in advocating for legislation barring discrimination against gay people.
In January, a state law prohibiting sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination went into effect more than three decades after state lawmakers first debated it.
In his zealousness over the years to get such a measure passed, McKeon caused a stir in 1999 when he said some lawmakers who helped narrowly defeat the measure then should have voted for it because they had gay relatives. McKeon later apologized.
In retirement, McKeon plans to work part-time, including advocacy work for community groups and on public policy issues.
Before being elected to the state House, McKeon worked as Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s liaison to gays and lesbians.
He also has had careers as a police officer and teacher.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, August 4, 2006.