Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor said he deliberately chose this week's summit about diversity and inclusiveness to tell the public he's gay.
"I tried to do it in a way that complemented and magnified (the) message," said Lawlor, 34, a Vernon Hills Republican.
Lawlor hasn't kept his sexuality a secret. His family, friends and political leaders from Lake County and beyond long have known he's gay.
But it hasn't been a focus of his job as chairman, and he'd never before spoken about that part of his life in an official, public setting.
Lawlor felt Tuesday's summit at the College of Lake County in Grayslake was the right place to change that.
The gathering, which was co-hosted by a group called the Partnership for a Safer Lake County, was prompted by increased reports of intolerance and disrespectful actions across the country.
"We have had a degradation of kindness in how we treat each other," Lawlor said.
That those reports have worsened since President Donald Trump's election is "undeniable," Lawlor said.
Lawlor's revelation about his sexuality was subtle. In his closing remarks, he spoke about gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people who could lose their jobs or be denied housing because federal laws don't outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
He asked the audience -- including mayors, police chiefs, school leaders and other officials -- to think about someone they knew who could be affected. He said that person could be a neighbor, a family member, a co-worker, a classmate or even "your county board chairman."
"The delivery of that was intentional," Lawlor said. "Utilizing my perspective and my sexual orientation to push the event forward ... was exactly what I wanted to do."
Lawlor said the reaction from people in person and on social media has been "overwhelmingly positive."
Lake County Board member Steve Carlson, a Gurnee Republican, called Lawlor "gutsy" for making the comment.
"If anything it increases my opinion of him," Carlson said.
County Board member Craig Taylor was similarly supportive.
"I'm proud of him for doing it," said Taylor, a Lake Zurich Republican. "Hopefully it'll take a little bit of the pressure off him personally."
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