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Survivors of Club Q, Pulse massacres to testify before Congressional committee

New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney to chair hearing

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Equality Florida Press Secretary and Pulse survivor Brandon Wolf is scheduled to testify on Wednesday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Survivors of last month’s mass shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colo., and a survivor of the 2016 massacre at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Fla., are set to testify before the House Oversight Committee this Wednesday.

The hearing is slated to address the escalating violence and threats against LGBTQ people, which led to the Club Q violence and other acts of violence and threats across the country.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who chairs the committee, told NBC News; “Make no mistake, the rise in anti-LGBTQI+ extremism and the despicable policies that Republicans at every level of government are advancing to attack the health and safety of LGBTQI+ people are harming the LGBTQI+ community and contributing to tragedies like what we saw at Club Q.”

Scheduled to appear before the committee are Club Q co-owner Matthew Haynes, bartender Michael Anderson and James Slaugh. Also testifying before the committee is Equality Florida Press Secretary and Pulse survivor Brandon Wolf.

Slaugh, his partner and his sister Charlene, were all wounded in the Club Q attack. Charlene was shot in the abdomen while her brother was shot in the shoulder and his partner was shot in the leg. Slaugh and his partner met at Club Q and always considered it a safe space he told media outlets last month.

The hearing comes in response to a national onslaught of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from right wing politicians and groups, the torrent of anti-LGBTQ policies being passed across the country, escalating bomb threats against children’s hospitals that provide gender-affirming care for transgender youth, a domestic terror attack on a North Carolina power grid that was immediately celebrated by anti-LGBTQ extremists, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security terror warning issued regarding increased threats against the LGBTQ community, and the deadly shooting at Club Q, in which the shooter has been charged with more than 305 counts of hate-motivated crimes.

This will likely be the last hearing by the committee to address this issue before the Republican take over of the U.S. House of Representatives next month.

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Congress

EXCLUSIVE: Outgoing Rep. Cicilline on future of LGBTQ rights and life after Congress

Gay congressman departs office this week; led major LGBTQ legislative victories

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Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Speaking with the Washington Blade by phone on Tuesday from Rhode Island, U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) was optimistic about the outcome of the debt ceiling negotiations that have roiled Capitol Hill, the White House, and Wall Street for weeks.

“My sense of it is there are enough Democratic and Republican votes to get it to the president’s desk,” said the congressman, who would fly back to Washington in the evening with the expectation that a vote would be held the following day.  

Even amid the chaos and back-and-forth travel this week, Cicilline was ready to look back on the landmark legislative accomplishments of his distinguished career in politics, which have included groundbreaking advancements for LGBTQ rights.

And despite the ascendancy of anti-LGBTQ attacks from the right, including from much of the Republican caucus, he told the Blade there is ample reason to be optimistic that the chamber’s pro-equality work will continue in his absence.

As announced back in February and effective on Thursday, Cicilline will retire from Congress to lead his state’s largest philanthropic organization, the Rhode Island Foundation, having represented its 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House since 2011.

A former attorney, Cicilline was tapped to lead the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law as well as the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and Global Counterterrorism.

Particularly in recent years, the congressman became one of the most powerful House Democrats, elected to leadership in 2017 as a co-chair of the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee and picked in 2021 by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to serve as one of the nine members tasked with managing the House’s second impeachment of former President Donald Trump.

Among other legislative achievements, Cicilline is widely credited with leading the House’s passage, twice, of the biggest civil rights bill since the 1964 Civil Rights Act – the Equality Act, which would prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in areas from education and housing to employment and public accommodations.

While the Senate failed to pass the Equality Act, Cicilline said, “I’m handing that work off to [U.S. Rep.] Mark Takano [D-Calif.], who I know will take it over the finish line” once Democrats win control of the House again.

The congressman told the Blade that he hopes his leadership on this bill will be remembered as a key part of his legacy – and was adamant that its passage through both chambers is now a question of “when” rather than “if.”

“The majority of Americans support the Equality Act, and a majority of voters in every single state support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people,” so “this is about the Republican conference in Congress catching up with the American people,” Cicilline said.

Congress is beginning to look more like America in at least one respect, though. After his first election to the House, Cicilline was one of only three openly LGBTQ members serving in Congress (having already made history in 2003 as the first openly gay mayor of a state capital, Providence, R.I.).

Today, “I’m leaving with 10 colleagues in the House and two in the Senate,” he said, “so that’s great progress.”

“The calvary has arrived” with “young new members who are going to lead the next wave of this fight” such as openly LGBTQ U.S. Reps. Robert Garcia (Calif.), Becca Balint (Vt.), Eric Sorensen (Ill.), and Ritchie Torres (N.Y.), Cicilline said.

Echoing comments from his final speech on the House floor last week, the congressman also expressed his faith and confidence in party leaders with whom he has worked closely, including Democratic House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.)

Hopes and expectations for the current Democratic conference’s ability to deliver on behalf of LGBTQ Americans were buttressed late last year by passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation co-led by Cicilline that codified fundamental rights for same-sex couples that might otherwise be erased if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns or weakens its constitutional protections for marriage equality.

How to combat the rightwing crusade against LGBTQ and especially trans Americans

However prepared Cicilline believes his colleagues are to meet the moment, the congressman is also up to speed on the unprecedented challenges presented by the current political climate with respect to LGBTQ rights.

This year, state legislatures have introduced hundreds of bills targeting trans Americans, which endeavor to restrict their access to everything from lifesaving healthcare to public bathrooms. At the same time, anti-trans rhetoric has escalated to such an extent that a rightwing pundit speaking at CPAC said “transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely,” which some interpreted as a call for genocide against the community.

Legislatively, Cicilline said it is all part of a cynical political strategy adopted by Republicans. Having concluded that their crusade against same-sex marriage was no longer winnable, the party sought another way to fight against LGBTQ rights, eventually polling anti-trans positions and messaging that successfully motivates “the most extreme parts of their political base,” he said.

“Our Republican colleagues have weaponized the trans community in such a way that they think it’s politically advantageous to attack even trans kids,” which is “really horrific” especially considering the potential for tragic real-world consequences, including targeted violence against the trans community, Cicilline said.

“I hope people who are seeking public office will be conscious of that and will be responsible, but unfortunately, I think there are some who are so driven by their desire for power, that they’re prepared to do almost anything to get there,” the congressman added.

Some conservatives hope their polarization of and fear mongering about trans issues will drive a wedge, providing sufficient incentive or a permission structure for LGB Americans to turn their backs on the trans community, Cicilline said, but “That’s not gonna happen.”

“We are standing in lockstep with our trans brothers and sisters, and we’re just not going to allow them to be attacked in this way,” he said.

Broadly speaking, Cicilline said elected Democrats must “stand up for the queer community, speak out, condemn this kind of [anti-LGBTQ/anti-trans] legislation, and let the American people see the contrast” between the Democratic Party, which “stands for inclusion and has fought for LGBTQ+ equality” and the GOP, which is pushing “these very toxic and dangerous and un-American attacks on the LGBTQ community.”

The congressman noted that working against the interests of LGBTQ Americans is nothing new for congressional Republicans. “With just a couple of exceptions,” he said, the House GOP caucus voted against the Equality Act’s nondiscrimination protections, which stem directly from America’s most basic foundational values of fairness and equality.

“So that means I have colleagues in the Congress of the United States on the Republican side who fundamentally rejected the legislation that would grant me and others in my community full equality as citizens of this country, [colleagues who would] allow discrimination to continue against our community,” Cicilline said.

When it comes to navigating interpersonal working relationships with anti-LGBTQ Republicans in the chamber, though, “I frankly don’t really care how they feel about us,” the congressman said. “That’s irrelevant to me.”  

Cicilline to continue advocating for LGBTQ Americans after Congress

In addition to the Equality Act, Cicilline said that if Democrats recapture control of the House, he expects to see renewed momentum for a bill that he authored, the Global Respect Act, and another for which he was an original cosponsor, the LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act. Both were passed by the House but not by the Senate and therefore remain “unfinished business,” he said.

The Global Respect Act, Cicilline said, “will allow the U.S. to impose visa sanctions on anyone who commits gross human rights violations against the LGBTQ community,” while the latter bill would mandate that federal surveys must include data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Other legislative efforts that Cicilline has led, in areas from antitrust to foreign policy to gun violence, also include some “unfinished business” – bills that might see movement in the next Congress that carry the potential, in many cases, to measurably impact the lives of all Americans.

For instance, Cicilline, who has been at the vanguard of Congress’s work modernizing and strengthening antitrust law, remains hopeful about the eventual passage of six bills that he introduced in 2021, all designed to increase competition in digital markets.

These would curb the monopolistic power of dominant tech platform companies whose business models center engagement as the primary mechanism to drive advertising revenue – even though, as these firms are aware, content that tends to earn more engagement tends to be that which is incendiary, offensive, hateful, false, or misleading, violent or otherwise outrageous.

Looking beyond Congress, Cicilline said he is eager to continue advancing “equality and justice for our community” at the Rhode Island Foundation, building upon the organization’s existing work “supporting the organizations that are doing really important work to support the LGBTQ community.”

Cicilline acknowledged that leading an “explicitly non-partisan organization” will be a departure from his work in Washington – though perhaps not to the extent one might imagine.

“You know, our community remains, in this country, a marginalized community,” the congressman said. “In fact, it’s the only community, still, in America, that it’s legal to discriminate against.”

At this point, rather than pivoting back to discussing the need for passage of the Equality Act, Cicilline instead explained that because of the lack of national nondiscrimination protections, he is even more eager to include the LGBTQ community in the foundation’s work advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion.

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Congress

House to vote on resolution to expel Santos

Embattled N.Y. congressman indicted last week

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U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) (Screen shot via YouTube)

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to hold a vote within the next couple of days over whether to expel U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) from the chamber, a largely symbolic move that will put Republicans on the record as the embattled congressman faces criminal charges.

U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) introduced the resolution in January, reportedly with support from House Democratic leadership, but it would need a two-thirds majority to pass.

The Republican caucus could vote to table the motion, but only five defections would force a final ballot over Santos’ expulsion.

Calls for the congressman’s resignation began shortly after he took office, as reports began to surface that he had fabricated major claims about his life and biography and multiple law enforcement agencies started probing allegations of financial malfeasance.

Pressures intensified last week when the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York arraigned Santos on 13 criminal counts of fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds and making false statements.

Some Republican members have publicly urged Santos to step down, but GOP leadership so far has declined to take a hard stance pending the conclusion of investigations and law enforcement actions.

Santos represents New York’s 3rd Congressional District, serving in the seat that former Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi vacated. His electoral victory in 2022 provided a crucial vote for Republicans, who only narrowly won control of the House.

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Congress

Tuberville, 21 GOP senators call for White House to withdraw rule change for trans athletes

Senators specifically addressed Education Secretary Miguel Cardona

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U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) (Screen capture/YouTube)

U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) on Monday led a group of 21 other Republican senators in calling for Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to withdraw the administration’s proposed rule change that would prohibit blanket bans of transgender student athletes.

“Our comment sent to Secretary Cardona echoes what most Americans already know to be true: Forcing schools to allow biological males to compete against young women is unfair, unsafe and wrong,” Tuberville said in a statement.

If adopted as written, the draft policy unveiled by the U.S. Department of Education last month would affirm “that policies violate Title IX when they categorically ban transgender students” from participating on teams that align with their gender identity.

At the same time, the guidelines allow for exceptions that would bar trans student athletes in certain circumstances and provided various conditions are met.

Separately, Tuberville drew ire over his comments during an interview last week in which he said the Pentagon was wrong to root out white nationalists serving in the U.S. military.

“They call them that,” Tuberville replied, referring to the Biden administration’s criticism of white nationalists. “I call them Americans.”

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