An Interview With Kelly Cassidy

Rep. Kelly Cassidy, who’s on the Chicago host committee for A Wider Brunch, is a leading Illinois legislator who worked on issues like marriage equality, anti-bullying and banning conversion therapy. She’s an activist who’s also lesbian, a Jew by Choice (member of Temple Sholom) and a mom.

kellycassidy

A Wider Bridge Staff
August 3, 2016

“My Jewish faith and my values are so closely intertwined,” Rep. Kelly Cassidy tells A Wider Bridge in an exclusive interview. “It’s hard to say where one ends and the other begins or how to tease out the roles they play in my work. I am very lucky to represent a district that is well aligned with my values, so my work is not compromised by the politics of the day.”

After living in Florida, Cassidy moved to Chicago in 1991 and began working for the Chicago chapter of the National Organization for Women. “Working there exposed me to both the legislative and electoral worlds here in Illinois,” she recalls. “Most of my early work here focused on issues of social justice and civil rights, but an opportunity to work for Dick Devine when he won an upset election to become Cook County State’s Attorney exposed me to what has become a central focus of my work on criminal justice reform.”

When Kelly first started working with the General Assembly, it was remarkable that a lobbyist or staff member was out of the closet, she says. “In my first race, my opponent was also an out lesbian and the match up drew national attention to our race.”

Cassidy was raised Catholic in a pretty traditional family. Converting to Judaism was a long process for her, and was inspired by her ex-wife, after she realized that the Catholic church was not her spiritual home.

“I attended a Catholic school and attended church regularly with my family,” Kelly says. “I have very vivid memories of being chastised in religious education for asking questions and wanting to understand more deeply why we believed something or wondering how something could be the way it was described. Being a questioner was frowned upon in the church of my childhood. I was also offended to see how devalued the work of the women of the church was and being denied the opportunity to be an ‘altar boy’ may have been the last straw for me. At 13, Catholic kids receive the sacrament of Confirmation. Part of that process is choosing a new name associated with a saint that you admire. I chose Saint Francis and will never forget being told that unless I chose a female saint, I would be denied the sacrament. Somehow I prevailed and even kept the male spelling, but again was reminded that this was not my spiritual home. I left the church soon after and floated for quite a while, always wishing for a spiritual home, but never finding my place.”

“When I met my ex-wife and began to experience Jewish ritual with her, it really was as if I had found my home,” Kelly continues. “While she was supportive of my desire to convert, it was never something she pressed. What I knew was that my questioning wasn’t just welcomed but encouraged and that my belief that home, family and a good meal could be just as spiritual as a ritual in a distant building felt like what I’d been searching for my entire life.”

Cassidy currently lives in Rogers Park with her partner, Kelley Quinn, three sons, a dog and three birds. “My kids are near the ‘first wave’ of the gayby boom, so they are accustomed to the difference that comes with having a family like ours,” she says. “It’s been fun to watch how that novelty has faded over time as more and more families like ours arrive in school. They’ve also adjusted remarkably well to the attention that comes with having a mom in public life. An early reaction from one of my guys still makes me chuckle – upon seeing my photo in the paper, Ethan said ‘Look Mommy, you’re in the paper for the manyeth time!'”