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David Cicilline announces resignation from Congress to lead nonprofit

Openly gay R.I. Democrat championed LGBTQ issues



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

U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) will step down from Congress on June 1 to become CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation, the largest nonprofit in the state, the congressman announced on Tuesday.

The move bookends 28 years in public service for Cicilline, who was elected to Rhode Island’s House of Representatives in 1995 before becoming mayor of Providence — making history as the first openly gay mayor of a state capital — in 2003, and then representing Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2010.

The 61-year-old’s announcement likely came as a surprise to many in Washington: Cicilline, now serving his seventh term, was favored to continue winning reelection for his seat in Congress, where he has distinguished himself to such an extent that he is often described as one of his party’s rising stars.

A member of House Democratic leadership who was elected to chair the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee from 2019-2021, Cicilline serves as a senior member of the powerful House Foreign Affairs and the House Judiciary Committees and was distinguished as one of the nine Democrats selected in 2021 by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to manage the chamber’s second impeachment of former President Donald Trump.

In Rhode Island, Cicilline’s departure will trigger an off-year special election for his replacement. While it is unclear when the state’s Gov., Dan McKee (D), will schedule the ballot, two lawmakers have announced plans to explore whether to run: State Sen. Meghan Kallman, a progressive Democrat, and Central Falls Mayor Maria Rivera.

“For more than a decade, the people of Rhode Island entrusted me with a sacred duty to represent them in Congress, and it is a responsibility I put my heart and soul into every day to make life better for the residents and families of our state,” Cicilline said in a statement.

“The chance to lead the Rhode Island Foundation was unexpected, but it is an extraordinary opportunity to have an even more direct and meaningful impact on the lives of residents of our state.”

The Rhode Island Foundation is one of the state’s biggest philanthropic organizations. With an endowment exceeding $1.3 billion, the group funds a variety of initiatives addressing issues like housing shortages and opioid addiction, often in coordination with the state government. Last week, the foundation announced plans to distribute nearly $110,000 to support Black community services.

“The same energy and commitment I brought to elected office, I will now bring as CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation,” Cicilline said in his statement, “advancing their mission to ensure all Rhode Islanders can achieve economic security, access quality, affordable healthcare, and attain the education and training that will set them on a path to prosperity.”

Dr. G. Alan Kurose, chair of the foundation’s board of directors, said in a statement: “Congressman Cicilline’s career-long fight for equity and equality at the local, national and international level, and his deep relationships within Rhode Island’s communities of color are two of the many factors that led us to this decision.”

A champion for LGBTQ and other progressive causes

Cicilline, a longtime member of the House Progressive and Congressional Equality Caucuses, became the fourth openly gay member of Congress with his first election and has since been one of the most powerful voices on LGBTQ matters before the legislature.

“Congressman Cicilline is a tireless champion for the LGBTQI+ community,” Equality Caucus Chair Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) said in a statement Tuesday.Our community has greatly benefited from his leadership, including his work as the lead sponsor of the Equality Act, and the victories he has secured on our behalf,” he said.

Cicilline first introduced the Equality Act in 2011 and would subsequently reintroduce the bill in 2015, 2017 and 2019 — when it was finally passed by the House but languished in the then-Republican controlled U.S. Senate.

The legislation, which remains a major priority for Congressional Democrats and LGBTQ groups, would expand nondiscrimination protections in the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in areas from housing and employment to credit and jury service.

Pocan’s statement on Cicilline’s plans to step down also addressed the congressman’s work on behalf of the Equality Caucus.

“David represents his district honorably,” Pocan said. “He is a mentor to many of our LGBTQI+ co-chairs and has become a close friend and colleague of mine during our time in Congress.”

Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, wrote in a statement issued Tuesday that “Representative Cicilline will end his time in Congress with an unparalleled track record of advancing LGBTQ+ rights in our nation.” 

Robinson noted the congressman “has been a driving force in introducing and rallying support for the desperately needed Equality Act” as well as for the Respect for Marriage Act — a landmark bill signed into law at the end of last year that protects same-sex and interracial couples in the event that the U.S. Supreme Court should revoke or weaken their constitutional rights to marry.

LGBTQ Victory Fund & Institute President and former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who was also among the first openly-LGBTQ mayors of a major American city, said in a statement that Cicilline “has consistently gone to bat for pro-LGBTQ legislation, stood up against homophobic and transphobic policies and passed laws to make our country more equitable for all.”

“From speeches on the House floor to conversations with colleagues behind closed doors, David changed the hearts and minds of folks on both sides of the aisle – and our entire community is better because of it,” Parker said, adding that the congressman “will go down as one of the most groundbreaking LGBTQ leaders in American history.”

Other legislation impacting LGBTQ Americans that was supported by Cicilline includes a bill that he co-sponsored in 2011 to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, the Clinton-era law banning same-sex marriage, and another that he co-sponsored in 2018, the Gay and Trans Panic Defense Prohibition Act, which would prohibit courts that are adjudicating the assaults or murders of LGBTQ people from accepting, as mitigating or exculpatory factors, a defendant’s claim that he was driven to violence by unwanted sexual advances from the victim.

Cicilline also used his platform to draw attention to non-legislative matters impacting the LGBTQ community, particularly during the Trump administration, during which time the congressman became vocal advocate for LGBTQ migrants in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and a vocal critic of the State Department’s decision to deny or revoke diplomatic visas that were issued to unmarried same-sex partners of foreign diplomats.

Cicilline has also advocated for other causes and legislation championed by progressive Democrats including: strengthening gun control laws, an issue for which in 2016 he organized a 26-hour sit-in with House members including the late-U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), in support of reproductive freedom, including the right to safe and legal abortions.

A major voice in consumer rights, economic policy and foreign affairs

Last year, Roll Call proclaimed that Cicilline “got Congress to care about antitrust again,” having motivated U.S. lawmakers, including through his role as chair of the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on antitrust, to meet the moment amid the one-in-a-generation sea change in competition policy that began to take shape a few years ago.

No other U.S. lawmaker, with the possible exception of U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on antitrust and authored a book on the subject in 2021, has exerted more influence over Congress’ efforts to strengthen enforcement of the antitrust laws.

Cicilline and other advocates for antitrust reform argue that with more vigorous enforcement, the government can better moderate the outsize power and influence exerted by the dominant tech platform companies while providing relief for American consumers who suffer higher prices for goods and poorer quality for services as a result of the government’s failure to challenge anticompetitive mergers — a gun-shy approach that has persisted since the 1980s.

Last week, Cicilline challenged the exercise of economic power that harms the integrity of America’s democratic elections, introducing legislation with U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) that would impose additional disclosure requirements for corporations, labor organizations, and super PACs to fight the flow of dark money into politics.

“Great economic power should not translate into outsized political power,” he said.

On the Foreign Affairs Committee, Cicilline was an influential voice on matters that tend to attract comparably more controversy, such as America’s military footprint overseas. The congressman pushed back against the Obama administration’s proposal for intervention in Syria in 2013, and against Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong-Un in 2018, warning that it would elevate the standing of North Korea’s supreme leader in the international community.



Frost talks gun control with the Blade on anniversary of March for Our Lives

26-year-old congressman has been a gun violence prevention advocate since 2012



U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Author’s note: The full interview with Congressman Frost will be published next week.  

U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.), after a week of making headlines for his gun violence prevention advocacy, sat down with the Washington Blade for an exclusive interview on Friday, which marks the five-year anniversary of the founding of March for Our Lives.

The 26-year-old freshman congressman, who before his election was national organizing director for the student-led gun control group, had just introduced his first piece of legislation Tuesday with U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn. that would establish an Office of Gun Violence Prevention within the U.S. Department of Justice.

The proposal’s aim, in part, is to better facilitate the implementation of last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act by establishing a singular office to coordinate that work.

And on Thursday, Frost captured and tweeted a video of a confrontation between U.S. Capitol Police and Patricia and Manuel Oliver, gun control advocates who lost their son Joaquin in the 2018 Parkland, Fla., high school shooting.

The couple had been removed by police from the House Oversight and House Judiciary Committees’ gun rights hearing at the request of GOP Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.) and Pat Fallon (Texas).

Frost, who was in attendance, told the Blade the conflict started when Patricia Oliver “just stood up and she said, ‘you took my son’ and she sat down,” but “instead of moving on, the Chair [Fallon] escalated things.”

The congressman said the hearing itself was “a sham” convened for the purpose of attacking the Biden administration’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the entity within the U.S. Justice Department that investigates violations of laws governing the manufacture, possession, and use of guns.

“The real story here,” said the congressman, “is the fact that there were two parents who lost their son who was in high school, because he was shot to death and died in a pool of his own blood, and now they’re going to spend the rest of their lives fighting for a world where it doesn’t happen to anybody else.”  

Frost noted the Olivers were joined at the hearing by other families, activists, and organizers – all of whom were gathered in Washington, D.C., to advance the mission established by the group of teenaged Parkland survivors who founded March for Our Lives five years ago.

Among these student activists were Cameron Kasky, who identifies as queer, and X González, who is bisexual and uses they/them pronouns.

Frost has repeatedly said he ran for Congress because of his involvement in the gun violence prevention advocacy movement, which began with his volunteering on behalf of the Newtown Action Alliance, a group formed in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.  

The congressman told NPR the 2016 shooting at Pulse, the gay nightclub in Orlando “where 49 angels were murdered right here because they’re queer” marked one of the most significant moments of his life.

That same year and in that same city, Frost himself survived a gun violence incident.

During his congressional campaign, on the heels of last year’s elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Frost tweeted: “10 years ago I became an Organizer because of Sandy Hook. 3 years later, I’d become a survivor myself. That same year, Pulse. Now I’m running for Congress and 15 lives were taken at another Elementary school. I will not stop until the endless shootings do.”

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House Republicans pass anti-LGBTQ Parents Bill of Rights Act

Measure passed by 213-208 vote margin



U.S. Capitol Building (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

U.S. House Republicans on Friday passed the Parents Bill of Rights Act, a proposal that would require public schools to share educational materials with parents and also contains provisions that would trigger the outing of LGBTQ students without their consent.

Critics say the legislation’s professed purpose, to equip parents with the information necessary for them to better engage with their children’s educators, is a pretext for its ultimate goals: For schools to censor out content addressing race, or materials containing LGBTQ characters or themes, while also discouraging LGBTQ students from being out at school.

The Congressional Equality Caucus noted the likelihood of that outcome in a statement Friday denouncing the bill, which the group’s chair, U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), called “dangerous” — pointing to its requirement for “schools to forcibly out transgender students, even if it puts those youth in harm’s way.”

“All children deserve access to a safe and affirming school environment,” Takano said in the statement. “Transgender youth have enough challenges already due to harassment, bullying, and anti-transgender state laws,” he said, adding, “My colleagues who voted for this bill should be ashamed.”

House members voted 213-208 for passage of the Parents Bill of Rights, or House Resolution 5, with Republican U.S. Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Ken Buck (Colo.), Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Mike Lawler (N.Y.) and Matt Rosendale (Mont.) voting against the legislation with every Democratic member. The bill was first introduced by GOP Rep. Julia Letlow (La.).

With Democrats’ control of the U.S. Senate, movement on the bill will almost certainly be stopped once it reaches the upper chamber, but it may nevertheless still have a harmful impact on the country’s LGBTQ youth.

For example, the National Institutes of Health published a peer reviewed study last year that found a link between anti-trans legislation and “suicide and depression-related Internet searches” using a dataset comprising 40 bills that were introduced and reached committee, of which three were passed and signed into law.

The caucus’ statement noted HR 5 contains “two provisions that would require schools that take steps to respect a student’s gender identity to forcibly out those transgender youth to their parents” along with another that would allow parents to access their children’s answers to survey questions, answers that might include information about a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

The risk that their parents will be able to see their answers will incentivize many students to lie about these and other questions, which the caucus said will undermine the federal government’s ability to collect important demographic, statistical and survey data on America’s LGBTQ youth.

Exacerbating that problem is another provision in the legislation, which requires parents to “opt-in” if their children would be asked to share their sexual orientation or gender identity.

America’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, the Human Rights Campaign, also issued a statement Friday condemning HR 5.

“The bill, which picks and chooses which families have rights and which don’t, has occupied the chamber’s time while extremist House leaders continue neglecting the very real and urgent problems facing our schools, such as gun violence, teacher shortages and educational inequality,” the group said in its statement.

HRC also noted the legislation’s potential to trigger forcible outing of LGBTQ youth “would endanger students instead of fulfilling school officials’ obligation to make judgments on a case-by-case basis in the best interests of the students under their supervision.”

The organization said it expects House Republicans to move “in coming weeks” on House Resolution 734, “a bill to ban participation by transgender youth in school sports,” and drew parallels between the Parents Bill of Rights Act and the “curriculum censorship seen in harmful, unnecessary bills passed in state legislatures recently.”

U.S. Rep. Melanie Stanbury (D-N.M.), a member of the Equality Caucus, echoed that message in her statement Friday, writing that HR 5 was “modeled after bills passed at the state level, which have censored the teaching of American history, allowed book bans, and violated the safety and privacy of transgender and LGBTQ+ students.”

The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy on Monday addressing the bill, writing “the administration does not support HR 5 in its current form because the bill does not actually help parents support their children at school” and “moreover, instead of making LGBTQI+ students feel included in their school community, it puts them at higher risk.”

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Takano to renew House Democrats’ push for the Equality Act

Measure would extend federal anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ Americans



Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), a co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus, issued a statement Thursday pledging to introduce the Equality Act during this Congress, legislation that would extend federal anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ Americans.

The bill would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in “employment, education, access to credit, jury service, federal funding housing, and public accommodations.”

Four previous versions were introduced in the House by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and in the Senate by U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in 2015, 2017, 2019, and 2021. The Biden administration and congressional Democrats have signaled that the legislation remains a major priority despite the Republicans now exercising their majority control of the lower chamber.

With Cicilline’s planned departure from Congress on June 1 to lead the nonprofit Rhode Island Foundation, Takano thanked and credited his colleague “for his leadership on behalf of our community and stewardship of the Equality Act.”

Cicilline, who drafted the legislation and chaired the Equality Caucus in the last Congress before Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) took over this year, noted the heightened importance of the Equality Act’s passage amid the proliferation of anti-LGBTQ and especially anti-trans legislation.

“With homophobic and transphobic legislation being proposed in state legislatures across the country and here in Congress,” he said, “it is far past time we act to finally outlaw discrimination against the LGBTQI+ community by passing the Equality Act.”

The legislation is also backed by major LGBTQ advocacy groups including the nation’s largest, the Human Rights Campaign. “There is overwhelming support for this bill among the American people and the business community, and we will continue fighting until this bill is signed into law,” said the organization’s President Kelley Robinson.

Robinson also thanked Cicilline for his leadership on the bill and said the Human Rights Campaign looks forward to working with Takano, “an incredible champion for our community” who “is the perfect leader for this effort” to “build on he work Congressman Cicilline started and get the Equality Act signed into law.”

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