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Providence mayor makes bid for Congress

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The mayor of Providence, R.I., last weekend announced he is running for Congress, making him one of several openly gay candidates slated to be on ballots this fall.

David Cicilline, who’s served as mayor since 2003 and was the first openly gay mayor of a state capital, formally declared Feb. 13 that he wouldn’t pursue another term as mayor and would instead seek the congressional seat that will be vacated at the end of the year when pro-LGBT lawmaker Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) retires.

In an interview with DC Agenda, Cicilline said he wanted to pursue a run to represent Rhode Island’s 1st congressional district because of the economic hardships his state is facing and Washington’s slow response in addressing the issue.

“Over the past 18 months, it has become very clear to me that Washington has really lost sight of what is happening to the hard-working middle-class in cities and towns across this country,” he said.

Rhode Island has been hit particularly hard by the recession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for the state in December 2009 was 12.9 percent, putting it just behind Michigan and Nevada among states with the highest unemployment.

“People are sick of reading about hundreds of billions of dollars being spent on bank bailouts and hundreds of billions of dollars being spent on bailing out the Big Three car companies, and they do not feel like Washington is doing anything to improve their lives,” he said.

Cicilline said he’s heard “every single day” about families in his home state who are concerned about whether they can “keep the job that they have, whether they can be able to find work, or whether they can afford their rent.”

“I think what we need in Washington, what I really bring to this work, is [a] very practical problem solving approach,” he said. “That’s what mayors do. We sit around, we sit down and try to bring people together who have divergent views and deal with the hard issues and fashion solutions to come up with answers to address problems every day.”

But Cicilline isn’t the only Democratic candidate seeking to represent his district in Congress. William Lynch, who recently stepped down as Rhode Island’s state Democratic Party chair after 12 years, also announced on Saturday his candidacy for the seat.

In a Sept. 14 primary, voters in Rhode Island’s first congressional district will decide who will be the Democratic nominee for the general election. The winner of the primary will most likely take on John Loughlin, the Republican candidate whom the GOP seems poised to nominate.

Loughlin is an Army veteran and Rhode Island State House member who has had notable success raising money. According to the Federal Election Commission web site, Loughlin has raised more than $246,000 for his campaign.

As a gay man, Cicilline said he’s “very, very committed” to supporting legislation and issues that would “affect my community and provide for equality at every level of state, local and federal government.”

“I think when you get elected to any office, you bring to that office your — who you are,” he said. “All of your life experiences and who you are as a person contribute to the way you look at issues, the issues that you care about.”

Cicilline said he would vote in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Uniting American Families Act, as well as back repeals of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act.

While saying he would as a member of Congress step up to support the LGBT community, Cicilline said he didn’t think his sexual orientation would provide any additional challenge for him in his campaign. He noted that his sexual orientation wasn’t an issue in his runs for mayor.

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund hasn’t yet determined whether to endorse Cicilline in his run for Congress, although the organization had endorsed him in previous mayoral bids and his campaign this year for a third term as mayor.

Denis Dison, a Victory Fund spokesperson, said the process by which the organization determines its endorsements is the same for candidates in all races, but that evaluating whether or not to endorse Cicilline will be “a little bit of an easier load” because the organization is already familiar with him.

“We have endorsed this candidate multiple times; it’s not like we have to get to know him,” Dison said. “It’s a matter of doing the work on the ground and talking to local politicos and party leaders and things like that — just to make sure that we have crossed our T’s and dotted our I’s before we endorse.”

Dison declined to comment on whether the Victory Fund and the Cicilline campaign have held any conversations about an endorsement.

Cicilline said he’s looking for both the Victory Fund and the Human Rights Campaign to endorse him in his bid for Congress.

“They’ve endorsed me for both of my previous races — the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund — so I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I hope to be endorsed by both organizations in this campaign,” he said.

Cicilline’s candidacy means he’s joining other gay candidates who are pursuing a run for Congress. Steve Pougnet, who’s gay and mayor of Palm Springs, is seeking to oust incumbent Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) to represent California’s 45th congressional district.

Should Pougnet succeed, he would be the first openly gay person who’s legally married with children to serve in Congress.

The Victory Fund has endorsed Pougnet, making him the only non-incumbent, openly LGBT person the organization has endorsed in a run for Congress.

Dison said the Democratic Party is looking at this seat as a possible pickup, but it’s too early to determine whether Pougnet will be in a good position to beat Bono Mack in November.

“Nobody’s really in the thick of it yet, and that’ll become clear later on, but he’s been a fantastic fundraiser so far for a non-incumbent, so there’s definitely hope there.”

According to the Federal Election Commission, Pougnet has raised more than $563,000 for his campaign and Bono Mack has raised more than $992,000. While Pougnet is behind in fundraising, challengers typically raise less than incumbents.

Andy Stone, spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Pougnet is doing what’s needed to mount a serious challenge to Bono Mack this fall.

“Mayor Pougnet is aggressively raising the necessary funds and it’s clear that Congresswoman Bono Mack is already feeling the heat from this formidable challenger,” he said.

Pougnet has been heralded as a supporter for LGBT causes and as a strong fundraiser for the campaign against Proposition 8 in California. When same-sex marriage was available in the Golden State in 2008, Pougnet married 118 couples in his capacity as mayor of Palm Springs, more than any other mayor in the state.

Still, some perceive Pougnet as running against a pro-gay Republican. Bono Mack voted twice against the Federal Marriage Amendment and has supported hate crimes legislation as well as ENDA.

Another openly gay candidate seeking a seat in Congress is Ed Potosnak, a former staffer for Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) and public school teacher who’s running to represent New Jersey’s 7th congressional district.

Potosnak, currently the only Democratic candidate running for the nomination in that district, said he’s pursuing a seat in Congress because of the economic hardship that many people in New Jersey face.

“For me, what really prompted me to run for Congress is the fact that I’m not a career politician,” he said. “I’m someone who has really lived through struggles of the middle class, and I think that real world experience positions me well to address the problems that our families are facing.”

If elected, Potosnak said he’d support ENDA and UAFA, as well as repeals of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and DOMA.

Still, Potosnak is running in a district that Republicans have won consistently since 1980. And the one-term GOP incumbent he’s challenging, Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) voted in favor of hate crimes legislation last year and is a co-sponsor of ENDA.

But Potosnak said the LGBT community shouldn’t support Lance because the lawmaker has been unhelpful in the struggle to win relationship recognition in New Jersey.

“As a state legislator, before he came to Congress, he didn’t support civil unions and he also is undecided on whether it should be repealed in the state,” he said. “He’s also undecided on whether there should be a constitutional ban or a definition of marriage between in a man and a woman.”

The Lance campaign couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on the lawmaker’s position on relationship recognition.

Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality, said his organization wishes Potosnak good luck “in a very challenging district.”

“Garden State Equality has made endorsements in federal races,” Goldstein said. “We target districts, based on not just issues, but also electability.”

Since Potosnak has only recently declared his candidacy, his fundraising numbers aren’t yet available on the Federal Election Commission web site. Lance has already raised nearly $584,000 for his campaign.

The incumbent gay lawmakers in Congress — Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) — are expected to seek re-election. Dison said he didn’t know whether the three House members would have any difficulty in retaining their seats.

“I just have not studied the races and seen what the position is,” he said. “We’re preparing for that eventuality, of course.”

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The White House

EXCLUSIVE: Jill Biden to host White House Pride celebration

Event to take place on June 26

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First lady Jill Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

First lady Jill Biden will host the White House Pride Month celebration on June 26, according to a press release previewed by the Washington Blade.

The party on the South Lawn will also feature a performance by singer, songwriter, actress, and record producer Deborah Cox and musical selections by DJ Trifle.

This year’s event comes on Equality Day this year, which honors the anniversaries of three landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that expanded rights and protections for LGBTQ Americans: Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which struck down sodomy laws, United States v. Windsor (2013), which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which made marriage equality the law of the land.

The White House highlighted some of the “historic action” taken by President Joe Biden to “advance LGBTQ+ equality for the community,” including:

  • Signing into law the landmark Respect for Marriage Act which protects the rights of same-sex and interracial couples;
  • Appointing a historic number of LGBTQI+ and transgender appointees, including the first transgender American to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate;
  • Directing all federal agencies to strengthen civil rights protections on the basis of gender identity, resulting in agencies working to strengthen protections in housing, health care, education, employment, the criminal justice system, nutrition programs, and more;
  • Reversing the ban on open service by transgender members of the military;
  • Signing an executive order focused on LGBTQI+ children and families that directs agencies to address the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called “conversion therapy” and finalized rule-making that ends disparities that LGBTQI+ children and parents face in the child welfare and foster care system and protects against disparities in health care; and
  • President Biden continues to call on Congress to pass the Equality Act to enshrine civil rights protections for LGBTQI+ Americans in federal law.

Last year, the president and the first lady hosted the celebration, which was the largest Pride event ever held at the White House.

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National

65% of Black Americans support Black LGBTQ rights: survey

Results show 40% have LGBTQ family member

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(Logo courtesy of the NBJC)

The National Black Justice Coalition, a D.C.-based LGBTQ advocacy organization, announced on June 19 that it commissioned what it believes to be a first-of-its-kind national survey of Black people in the United States in which 65 percent said they consider themselves “supporters of Black LGBTQ+ people and rights,” with 57 percent of the supporters saying they were “churchgoers.”

In a press release describing the findings of the survey, NBJC said it commissioned the research firm HIT Strategies to conduct the survey with support from five other national LGBTQ organizations – the Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Family Equality, and GLSEN.

“One of the first surveys of its kind, explicitly sampling Black people (1,300 participants) on Black LGBTQ+ people and issues – including an oversampling of Black LGBTQ+ participants to provide a more representative view of this subgroup – it investigates the sentiments, stories, perceptions, and priorities around Black values and progressive policies, to better understand how they impact Black views on Black LGBTQ+ people,” the press release says.

It says the survey found, among other things, that 73 percent of Gen Z respondents, who in 2024 are between the ages of 12 and 27, “agree that the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people.”

According to the press release, it also found that 40 percent of Black people in the survey reported having a family member who identifies as LGBTQ+ and 80 percent reported having “some proximity to gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer people, but only 42 percent have some proximity to transgender or gender-expansive people.”

The survey includes these additional findings:

• 86% of Black people nationally report having a feeling of shared fate and connectivity with other Black people in the U.S., but this view doesn’t fully extend to the Black LGBTQ+ community. Around half — 51% — of Black people surveyed feel a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.

• 34% reported the belief that Black LGBTQ+ people “lead with their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Those participants were “significantly less likely to support the Black LGBTQ+ community and most likely to report not feeling a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.”

• 92% of Black people in the survey reported “concern about youth suicide after being shown statistics about the heightened rate among Black LGBTQ+ youth.” Those expressing this concern included 83% of self-reported opponents of LGBTQ+ rights.

• “Black people’s support for LGBTQ+ rights can be sorted into three major groups: 29% Active Accomplices, 25% Passive Allies (high potential to be moved), 35% Opponents. Among Opponents, ‘competing priorities’ and ‘religious beliefs’ are the two most significant barriers to supporting Black LGBTQ+ people and issues.”

• 10% of the survey participants identified as LGBTQ. Among those who identified as LGBTQ, 38% identified as bisexual, 33% identified as lesbian or gay, 28% identified as non-binary or gender non-conforming, and 6% identified as transgender.

• Also, among those who identified as LGBTQ, 89% think the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people, 69% think Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedoms than other Black people, 35% think non-Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedom than other Black people, 54% “feel their vote has a lot of power,” 51% live in urban areas, and 75% rarely or never attend church.

Additional information about the survey from NBJC can be accessed here.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Club Q shooter sentenced to life in prison for federal hate crimes

Five people killed in 2022 mass shooting in Colo.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. (Justice Department YouTube screenshot)

Anderson Lee Aldrich, 24, formerly of Colorado Springs, Colo., was sentenced to 55 concurrent life sentences to run consecutive to 190 years in prison after pleading guilty to 74 hate crimes and firearms charges related to the Nov. 19, 2022, mass shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ establishment in Colorado Springs.  

According to the plea agreement, Aldrich admitted to murdering five people, injuring 19, and attempting to murder 26 more in a willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated attack at Club Q. According to the plea, Aldrich entered Club Q armed with a loaded, privately manufactured assault weapon, and began firing. Aldrich continued firing until subdued by patrons of the club. As part of the plea, Aldrich admitted that this attack was in part motivated because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity of any person.

“Fueled by hate, the defendant targeted members of the LGBTQIA+ community at a place that represented belonging, safety, and acceptance — stealing five people from their loved ones, injuring 19 others, and striking fear across the country,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland. “Today’s sentencing makes clear that the Justice Department is committed to protecting the right of every person in this country to live free from the fear that they will be targeted by hate-fueled violence or discrimination based on who they are or who they love. I am grateful to every agent, prosecutor, and staff member across the Department — from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, to the Civil Rights Division, the ATF, and FBI — for their work on this case. The Justice Department will never stop working to defend the safety and civil rights of all people in our country.”

“The 2022 mass shooting at Club Q is one of the most violent crimes against the LGBTQIA+ community in history,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The FBI and our partners have worked tirelessly towards this sentencing, but the true heroes are the patrons of the club who selflessly acted to subdue the defendant. This Pride Month and every month, the FBI stands with the survivors, victims, and families of homophobic violence and hate.”

“ATF will not rest until perpetrators like this defendant are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Steven Dettelbach, director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “I hope today’s life sentence brings at least some peace to the victims and survivors of this senseless, horrific tragedy. That this sentence should come during Pride month reinforces how far we have left to go before all communities, including all LGBTQIA+ communities, are safe here. It also shows how far ATF and all our partners will go to ensure hatred does not win.”

“The defendant’s mass shooting and heinous targeting of Club Q is one of the most devastating assaults on the LGBTQIA+ community in our nation’s history. This sentence cannot reclaim the lives lost or undo the harms inflicted. But we hope that it provides the survivors, the victims’ families, and their communities a small measure of justice,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our message today should be loud and clear. No one should have to fear for their life or their safety because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The Justice Department will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who perpetrate hate-fueled, bias-driven attacks.”

“Hate has no place in our country and no place in Colorado” said Acting U.S. Attorney Matt Kirsch for the District of Colorado. “I hope that today’s sentence demonstrates to the victims and those connected to this horrific event that we do not tolerate these heinous acts of violence.”

The FBI Denver Field Office, Colorado Springs Police Department, and ATF investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alison Connaughty and Bryan Fields for the District of Colorado and, Maura White of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division prosecuted the case.

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