Social Justice

At clubs like Stone Park’s Playpen, sex work no fun and games

By Rebekah Frumkin and Jenny Lee

To an observer, it looks like a slow night at The Playpen in Stone Park: A few customers linger around the bar while two more play a leisurely game of pool. But for 26-year-old Naperville native Natalie Escobar, it’s a night to make money.

“It’s good to have customers and clients who are regulars,” Escobar says. “They’re my bread and butter.”

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A laugh ignites tensions between labor union and state representative

by Stephanie Golden
Video by Xiao Lyu

An Illinois state representative is denying claims of laughing off a sexual harassment incident reported to him as protesters accuse him of inappropriate conduct.

More than 30 people gathered at Daley Plaza, across from CBS Chicago’s downtown headquarters, Tuesday to protest the local network’s refusal to air an “anti-sexual harassment” commercial, according to protest organizer Sarah Lyons.

Lyons said Unite Here Local 1, a hospitality workers union, is pushing to air a commercial reprimanding Rep. Martin Moylan (D-Des Plaines) for his response to a waitress reporting sexual harassment by a customer at Rivers Casino in Des Plaines. Lyons
said multiple local stations rejected the commercial but the group hoped the local CBS affiliate would  “be a leader.”

A CBS Chicago spokesperson said she was unaware of the issue.

The 21-year old waitress visited Moylan’s office to seek his help after casino officials refused to investigate her claim of a male customer asking her to perform oral sex, according to a Unite Here Local 1 representative.

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Gay Chinese Americans are caught in a tug-of-war

By Jenny Lee and Ya Zhou

Disoriented by the constant tug-of-war in China over homosexuality, gay Chinese Americans are looking for support in the United States, where same-sex marriage is legal.

What they are facing is the conflict between their gender identity and the traditional values their parents hold, but with family lying at at the core of their culture, abandoning their parents is rarely an option. A tug-of-war in the family can easily turn personal and painful.
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A tale of two cities: how education trumps war in Chicago and Reyhanli

By Aryn Braun

“There are lots of Syrians in Chicago like me, second-generation Syrians,” says Samia Akhras, 24, of Chicago’s growing Syrian Community.

But Chicago isn’t home. Chicago isn’t Syria.

Syrian-Americans, like Akhras and her family, are constantly reminded of the violence and upheaval that is everyday life in the Syrian Arab Republic. Akhras’ voice, normally lilting with enthusiasm, is grave and quiet when she talks about Syria’s constant turmoil and the danger her family members still face back in the Middle East.

“It was and it still is, really brutal,” Akhras says. “Every couple of months, every major event, I always think ‘That’s the worst thing that could ever happen. What could be worse?’ Then a couple months later a chemical weapon gets dropped, or a school gets bombed by Russia and ISIS is now in control of several cities throughout Syria.

“So it’s just never-ending pain.”

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Rebel Rouser: High school activist speaks up for better education

By Morgan Gilbard

Nidalis Burgos stood her ground when police threatened to arrest her during a school closings protest in 2013. A teacher told Burgos, who was only 15 at the time, that the incident would cost her a future.

“My eighth-grade teacher came into the classroom and said, ‘Hey, just so you know, if you do this, colleges won’t accept you,’ ” Burgos recalled.
Now a senior at Lincoln Park High School and a prominent figure in the burgeoning student-led activism in Chicago Public Schools, Burgos still doesn’t regret that night—especially now that her college dreams are approaching on the horizon.

“I got my three acceptance letters and all I could think was, ‘Hey, Ms. Macey was incorrect,’ ” Burgos said.

Proving people wrong is a hobby for Burgos, who is doing just that as co-founder of Chicago Students Union, the champion force behind student-led advocacy for education funding and reform. Support for the Students Union has increased at the same pace that the district’s pile of problems has grown. CPS has made $75 million in cuts for this fiscal year, is in the midst of seemingly endless teacher contract negotiations and needs a $725 million loan to stay afloat.

The student protesters who follow Burgos at marches and rallies are fed up— and their numbers are growing into the hundreds. Continue reading

When Food Stamps Fall Short, Local Pantries Step In

By Anna Boisseau

The well-stocked food pantry at St. Ignatius Church saw few visitors on Wednesday at the start of January. According to volunteer Anita Goldstein that is because, as patrons can only visit once a month, they generally come towards the end once Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and paychecks have run out.

Those recipients who trickled in were given a robust supply of items like canned soups, pastries from Starbucks and some fresh produce options.

The pantry is one of 650 member agencies affiliated with the Greater Chicago Food Depository (GCFD), which has dispensed food around Cook County since 1979. According to Paul Morello, who works for GCFD, the organization mainly provides support to its partner pantries and soup kitchens in the form of distribution of food from its main location. Some are further funded by grants and donations.
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Health care organizations push increased access to birth control in Illinois

By Enrica Nicoli Aldini

Oregon made birth control available for purchase directly at a pharmacy without obtaining a doctor’s prescription last January. California will do the same in March. And now, health care organizations in Illinois are working with state legislators to increase access to birth control methods without additional costs, possibly making it available over the counter.

“No specific steps have been taken so far to introduce over-the-counter birth control, but the conversation is starting to bubble up,” said Kathy Waligora, director of the Health Reform Initiative at EverThrive Illinois, an organization advocating for the health of women, children and families. “The issue is really being considered by a lot of people.”

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Chicago legal center pilots job training, housing program

By Harry Huggins

Fredrick Dennis, Darrin Brown and Cecil Palmer are three young men renovating their own apartment on Chicago’s West Side.

They’re part of the MAC House, a new program from the Lawndale Christian Legal Center that combines transitional housing with job training. The guys in the program have one thing in common: they’ve been through Chicago’s criminal justice system at least once before.

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Overprescribed and underfunded: Illinois’ surge in overdose deaths

By Jack Adams, Talia Beechick and Madison Hopkins

Chris Nielsen’s future looked bright. A senior in high school, he played catcher on his school’s baseball team in a Chicago suburb and was offered a full scholarship to play the sport at Michigan State University. But at age 17, after his first knee surgery, he was prescribed Percocet and Dulotin to help ease post-surgery pain.

Nielsen grew up around drugs. Both of his parents were addicted to heroin, and his father died from an overdose when Nielsen was just a few years old, he said. His uncles also used, and drugs and addicts became common fixtures in Nielsen’s childhood.

“I was physically and sexually abused when I was a kid,” he said. He went to live with his grandmother where he kept his distance from drugs until his knee surgery.

“I don’t care what anybody says, it’s freaking genetic,” Nielsen said, sitting on a couch at a Gateway Treatment Center in Chicago. “I have no kids, but I’m glad I don’t, because I ended that cycle in my family.” Continue reading

Artist aims for radical visibility with new clothing line for queer people with disabilities

By Rebekah Frumkin

Sky Cubacub, who uses the personal pronoun “they,” runs excitedly around this Lakeview studio, retrieving various chainmaille garments in the process. The bounty includes a chainmaille vest, a halter dress and bands of “metamaille,” or chainmaille that has itself been woven into a chainmaille pattern.

“I’m super drawn to chainmaille because of its texture, and the way it moves,” Cubacub says, smiling. “It’s like: kinetics!”

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