Incoming McHenry County Board member Jessica Phillips said she remembers what it was like to come out as a young teenager in Crystal Lake and so said she plans to fight to make this journey a little bit smoother for the next generation of LGBTQ residents.
Phillips, a Democrat, is the first openly gay woman to be elected to the McHenry County Board, and she said that fact was one of the reasons that she wanted to run in the first place.
“We need their voices to be heard, and I am so happy and so excited and nervous all at the same time that I'm able to be a voice for that part of my community,” she said.
She is hoping that her election "might make more gay or lesbian or trans people speak up within the county," she said. "It is your community so you deserve to be represented because you're a part of it too."
Phillips is also one of four female newcomers – one Republican and three Democrats – elected to the County Board this election cycle.
This year's uptick in female candidates across local and countywide seats is especially motivating "given this is the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote,” McHenry County Democratic Party Chairwoman Kristina Zahorik said in a Nov. 17 press release.
The other newly elected women are Tracie Von Bergen, a Republican, and Theresa Meshes and Tanya Jindrich, both Democrats.
"Tracie Von Bergen is a great fit for District 6," McHenry County Republican Party Chairman Tyler Wilke said in an interview Sunday. "I'm really glad that she decided to run. ... She does bring a bunch of things to the table. She is a woman, she's a business owner, she's a farmer and she understands the things that effect property taxes with her position as the assessor in Hebron Township."
Jindrich has a detailed list of goals for her first term on her campaign website, which includes reducing the salaries of county elected officials, eliminating the county's contract with ICE and developing internship programs for young people who want to work in skilled trades industries.
The election of these four will bring the number of women on the McHenry County Board to 12, soon to be 11 once state Rep.-Elect Suzanne Ness moves on from her role as County Board member in December. The other women on the board include Carolyn Schofield, Kelli Wegener, Lori Parrish, Kay Bates, Pamela Althoff, Paula Yensen and Michelle Aavang.
"I think we definitely bring a different perspective," Meshes said in an interview Sunday. "We will bring with us our life experiences.... My hope is that we will all collaborate really well."
Meshes said she looks up to the other, more senior women – and men – on the County Board and looks forward to working together to serve county residents, particularly on issues of clean energy development and floodwater management.
Once new board members are sworn in on the morning of Dec. 7, the County Board will see an equal split of male to female board members with two seats left open to be filled by incoming County Board Chairman Mike Buehler in the coming months.
In an interview Wednesday, Buehler called this equal split "great."
"I'm very excited to meet all of the new board members," Buehler said. "I haven't had an opportunity to speak with them as yet, but I'm really looking forward to getting to know them and working with them. It's going to be a good thing."
Phillips said she has always dreamed of running for public office. She has a bachelor's degree in political science, a paralegal degree and master's degrees in public administration and business administration.
After moving back to her hometown of Crystal Lake to raise her two children, Phillips began working at Follett School Solutions in McHenry. She also serves on the Lake Advisory Committee of Crystal Lake.
When Zahorik contacted her asking if she would be interested in running for County Board, Phillips said it was an opportunity she could not pass up.
When all was said and done, Phillips unseated Republican incumbent John Reinert to represent District 2, which runs from Algonquin Road in the south to Crystal Lake Avenue in the north and includes all or parts of Crystal Lake, Cary, Algonquin, Lake in the Hills and Lakewood.
One of Phillips' priorities upon taking office will be to work to improve the county's support systems available to members of the LGBTQ community, young and old, she said.
“When I was in high school, it still really wasn't like okay or accepted.… There really was no help or support within the county and there really still isn't,” Phillips said. “I don’t want to have the younger generation go through what I did because I had to keep to myself. I had to keep quiet."
She said she hopes to create more space for LGBTQ people to share their stories and to have access to specialized mental health care.
"[Phillips] will bring the perspective of how we can be better listeners to members of the community who may have felt marginalized in the past," Meshes said.
Protecting the environment and the county's water resources for the health of residents and the agricultural industry are two issues, which are also very important to her, Phillips said.