By AARON GETTINGER
Will Calloway, candidate for alderman from the 5th Ward, apologized for past homophobic internet posts, but then refused to answer questions on the record.
In a session entitled “A Conversation Addressing Inclusion and Acceptance,” the candidate clearly chose not to include those who did not attend Sunday’s gathering at the Hyde Park Hyatt by failing to go on the record in response to questions.
As he addressed the homophobic 2015 posts, Calloway made frequent allusions to his Christian faith. He retracted the posts’ sentiments, acknowledged their ability to offend and asked for people to acknowledge one’s ability to grow and learn from mistakes.
“I’m sorry. There’s nothing I can do to say that I’m sorry,” Calloway said on Sunday. “I apologize. It was wrong. It was offensive.” Calloway said he has learned from mistaken statements in his adolescence and urged “room and space to evolve, to grow,” but he said no one could put a time frame on how long it would take someone to grow and evolve.
The forum began 30 minutes late, as more Calloway supporters filed into the room. Former Herald editor Gabriel Piemonte, who took third place in the first-round election on Feb. 26 and has since campaigned for Calloway, introduced the candidate and said the discussion would preclude religious discussions and that a question-and-answer discussion after the candidate’s remarks would be off-record and on background, in which the source of the information cannot be identified.
While Calloway denied he has “run and ducked” from the conversation about his old internet posts, he had cancelled an interview with the Herald on Monday, March 18, scheduled to discuss the controversy. Kelsey Kruzel with his campaign invited the Herald editorial team to the forum, promising the opportunity to speak to him there, but Calloway refused to answer any questions on the record on Sunday.
Calloway began his remarks by acknowledging “a higher power that I do serve — and I know other people subscribe to different things; I definitely want to acknowledge my higher power.” Calloway’s homophobic comments frequently referenced his faith; he shared posts that cited scripture in reference to “when a hellish nation and culture makes a hellish decision,” meaning the Supreme Court’s decision in the Obergefell case and another that said that “speaking truth isn’t a position of hate.”
In 2015, Calloway had called same-sex marriage “an abominable sin” and predicted that invasions, financial collapse and natural disasters would befall the United States. He said his enemy was not same-sex marriage or gay people but “sin and the fruits thereof.”
“You can disagree with someone you love and still be civil and not cynical,” he said in 2015. Calloway had assured a man who commented on his social media posts who said he was bisexual that he still loved him, but he implied that supporters of same-sex marriage on his Facebook were an “epidemic.” He said he was ready to die for that which he believes.
On Sunday, Calloway said the forum at the Hyatt on 53rd Street was a safe space for everyone, “whether you agree with me or not; whether you voted with me or not.” He said he had notes from which he was going to read but announced that he would not speak from them.
“I want to talk this afternoon not necessarily as a candidate. I want to talk as a private citizen,” Calloway said. “I believe [that] what comes from the heart reaches the heart.”
Calloway moved to kill the Facebook Live feed of the forum, though some audience members asked for more transparency in his replies to their questions. Calloway said this was for audience member’s comfort and for the sake of the youth in attendance. He asked for the community’s comments before the press.
“I believe this is off-record,” Calloway said. Piemonte said nothing could be quoted.
Marc Loveless, a long-time South Side LGBTQ activist who brought Calloway’s 2015 posts to light two weeks ago, gave an interview after the forum. “I can’t talk to his character,” he said. “I can speak to his behavior, and so I appreciate the apology. I think what is clear is that there’s still a lot of learning to do on his side, because people were asking him specific questions about his position, and the answers were uninformed.
“He didn’t think that there were any LGBT issues that would come before City Council, and when he was asked specifically about gay marriage, he never said he was in favor of it, but he said that it’s already been decided in the courts. That is what he was responding to in his original message. He’s distanced himself from the words, but I don’t know about the sentiments. I’m not trying to second-guess his sincerity. He’s a young man, and there’s a lot of learning that has to take place. And I think that’s what the 5th Ward voters are going to have to address.”
Calloway acknowledged that the 2015 Facebook posts were offensive to the LGBTQ community. “Let me be the first to say: in 2019 when I view those posts, I believe those posts were offensive, and they were divisive.” He recalled his March 16 social media post responding to the controversy, saying his faith motivates his activism — Calloway played a role in achieving the police video of police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times — and that his faith “is never intended to be offensive.
“My faith is rooted in love. Everything that I have done in the past seven years of my life has been motivated and propelled because of my faith,” he said. “Everything that I have ever done in this city has been motivated because of love, but I take full responsibility — I take full accountability — for what I put up. I do not stand by those words anymore. I believe that, again, it caused a lot of anger in parts of our community that I believe was righteous indignation.”
Calloway said that he talked with his mother, whom he identified as a lesbian, and with his openly gay campaign manager for his unsuccessful 25th District state representative run, about “it.”
“They disagreed with the statements, of course, but at the same token, they knew my heart,” he said.
Calloway called an apology “important” but not as important his commitment to the people and to service. “I’m going to serve whether you like me or not; whether you agree with me or not. I’m going to continue to serve and fight for this city, whether I’m an elected official or not.”
“There’s nothing that Leslie Hairston supporters — there’s nothing that anybody could put out about me that’s falsified about me — can stop to prevent that,” Calloway. “I’m going to continue to serve every person in this city, whether you’re black, whether you’re from the Muslim community, LGBTQ, the Jewish community.
“If there’s an injustice going on against you, I’m going to use every fiber, every resource, everything that I can do to speak justice on your behalf,” Calloway said.
He asked the crowd to continue their fight against the 5th Ward’s problems whether or not he is elected and thanked Piemonte for his help in unifying the ward. He said he was glad the controversy over his homophobia erupted because “it allows the conversation to continue.” He promised “task-forces and committees” representing religious communities and LGBTQ people to hear their perspectives if he is elected.
“As far as my relationship goes with the LGBTQ community, listen, it would be impossible — listen to me when I tell you this, because a lot of people don’t come from the activist community — it would be impossible for me as an activist to have navigated in the space that I’ve navigated in in the activist community without me having relationships with the LGBTQ community.” He said he has had LGBTQ friends before and after his 2015 Facebook posts.
“If we’re talking about acceptance and inclusion, we need to talk it around the board, for everyone. For every group of people that feels marginalized,” Calloway said on Sunday.
Calloway introduced activist Takala Welch, a member of the LGBTQ community, saying that he had not invited all his LGBTQ friends because they would fill the room. She said she was not shocked, offended or hurt by the 2015 comments: “What I saw was Will.”
Welch vouched for Calloway’s character. “I just think it’s sad how the focus has been taken away from the election, period,” Welch said. “It doesn’t matter who’s gay, who’s straight, who don’t like gays, who likes gays, who’s in the closet, who’s under the table. These are candidates with character and experience, and instead of focusing on that, the whole election is a mess to me.”
Ald. Hairston responded to Calloway’s posts, retraction and apology later Sunday afternoon while campaigning at Bibliophile in East Hyde Park.
“You don’t change your views overnight,” she said. “There is no room for such intolerance. Looking at America’s history and all of the things that people have gone through, that they have fought for, the ways that they have been discriminated against — there is just no room for that.”
Hairston said Calloway was talking out of both sides of his mouth on “every” issue. She referred to his unpaid traffic fines and eviction proceedings against his South Shore campaign headquarters — matters brought to the press’ attention by her campaign — as “blatantly [disobeying] the law over and over again.”
“How are you going to talk about what I’ve done [for] the past 20 years when you haven’t even been here the last 20 years?” she asked, saying that Calloway was unprepared for the job and unwilling to research for it. “We’re looking at aldermen in corruption and ones that are going to jail, and he’s already committing crimes before anything even happens. That is not the kind of person we need to lead the 5th Ward.”
“This is a very serious job, and people put their trust in you. You can’t be just throwing things out willy-nilly, and words have meaning. They have consequences,” Hairston said.