James (Jim) Bennett, was appointed Illinois Department of Human Rights Director (IDHR) by Governor JB Pritzker in January 2019. As Director, he is responsible for overseeing the agency's primary goals to prohibit discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, citizenship status, age, marital status, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, military service or unfavorable discharge in connection with employment opportunities, housing and real estate transactions, access to financial credit and the availability of public services and public accommodations. In addition, the IDHR oversees charges of sexual harassment.
During his tenure, the Department has convened State agencies and advocates issuing guidance affirming nondiscrimination in matters related to Covid-19. Under Bennett's leadership, the Training Institute developed, piloted and launched new training that advance knowledge and understanding of DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) and implicit bias. IDHR also continues to modernize infrastructure for every aspect of work, including a new case management system which will dramatically improve the efficiency of the investigative process and will be more customer friendly.
In April 2021 Governor Pritzker appointed Bennett as Chair of the Commission on Discrimination and Hate Crimes. Convening subject matter experts, community leaders, law enforcement, and State agencies and constitutional offices, the Commission serves to investigate the root causes of hate crimes, how Illinois responds to incidents, and what we, collectively, need to do differently in the future to ensure all communities have the tools needed to combat hate crimes and discrimination.
Prior to his role in IDHR, Bennett served as the Midwest Regional Director at Lambda Legal, the nation's largest legal organization dedicated to securing the full civil rights of the LGBTQ community and people with HIV. During his 12-year career there, Bennett was a lead strategist in Lambda Legal Illinois and Iowa marriage campaigns and successfully fought Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act and their discriminatory 'religious refusal' laws. In 2013, he chaired Illinois Unites for Marriage, the statewide coalition that led the successful effort to win marriage equality in Illinois. As a result of his leadership, Illinois led the way in recognizing the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, and in standing firm against efforts to roll back antidiscrimination laws. Jim's integrity and commitment to justice make him a perfect fit to lead the agency charged with enforcing Illinois' laws ensuring fair treatment for all.
Earlier, Bennett served as acting senior external affairs director at Howard Brown Health, marketing and development director at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law and several roles at the American Red Cross national and central Illinois regional offices.
Bennett was inducted into the City of Chicago's Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 2013, was the recipient of Equality Illinois' Freedom award in 2018 and was inducted into the Steve and Sandi Adams Legacy Hall of Fame at Illinois State University in 2015. He received his Bachelor of Science from Illinois State University and Master of Business Administration from the University of Illinois at Springfield.