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Gay Congressman David Cicilline on 12 Years Fighting for LGBTQ Rights in the House

Gay Congressman David Cicilline on 12 Years Fighting for LGBTQ Rights in the House

<p>Gay Congressman David Cicilline on 12 Years Fighting for LGBTQ Rights in the House</p>

Rep. David Cicilline was one of only four out LGBTQ+ members of Congress when he started serving in 2011.

As I look back on the last 12 years representing Rhode Island in the House of Representatives, and my collective 30 years in public office, the LGBTQI+ community has a lot to be proud of.

When I was first elected to the House in 2011, I was one of only four openly LGBTQI+ members — three of whom were men — and there was not a single openly LGBTQI+ Senator.

Since then, we’ve more than tripled the number of openly LGBTQI+ members of Congress. More than one-third of currently out federal elected officials are women, nearly one-third are now people of color, and two are senators.

With this strength in numbers, we’ve been able to make incredible strides in our fight for equality.

In 2015, I authored the Equality Act, legislation that will explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics in employment, housing, and public accommodations, and other key areas of life. Thanks to the support and leadership of LGBTQI+ members and key allies like Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi and the late Rep. John Lewis, this transformative bill passed the House twice with bipartisan votes.

Last Congress, I was honored to serve as Chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus and proud to work with my colleagues, including House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, to make history as we passed the Respect for Marriage Act into law – the first major piece of LGBTQI+ legislation to be signed by the President of the United States since the repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." We finally repealed the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act and enshrined critical federal legal protections for same-sex and interracial marriages into law.

Last Congress, we were also able to pass my Global Respect Act out of the House with bipartisan support. This legislation would make clear that the United States will not abide by human rights abuses against the LGBTQI+ community abroad by denying visas to those who commit these abuses. The Caucus was also proud to support House passage of the LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act, which would ensure that the federal government collects data on the experiences of LGBTQI+ people to better inform our policy priorities and implementation.

As we have worked to protect and expand LGBTQI+ equality here at home, I have remained committed to protecting our community around the world, leading efforts to increase LGBTQI-related funding at USAID and the State Department. As we continue to witness attacks on the LGBTQI+ community, this funding will be crucial in ensuring their wellbeing and ensuring that human rights are protected.

During my time as Chair of the Equality Caucus, President Joe Biden convened the first meeting between a sitting U.S. President and Equality Caucus leadership — illustrating his dedication to advancing LGBTQI+ equality. As I leave the House of Representatives, I know that my Democratic colleagues, and my colleagues in the Equality Caucus, in partnership with President Biden, will continue to do the important work of protecting the most vulnerable in our nation.

As we enter Pride Month and celebrate not only our vibrant community but also the many wins we have had for LGBTQI+ equality, we inspire hope for the future. As anti-equality extremists continue to increase these hateful attacks on the community, especially transgender and gender non-conforming people, it is more important than ever that we enshrine LGBTQI+ equality into law.

Attacks from state legislatures and anti-LGBTQI+ extremists are at an all-time high. They are attacking access to medically necessary care for transgender people, especially transgender youth.

They are banning books and attacking the right to even discuss and uplift LGBTQI+ families, stories, and kids in our schools. Anti-equality extremists are even advancing legislation that would forcibly out LGBTQI+ kids to their parents, even if it puts those kids in harm’s way.

Anti-equality politicians — who have never done anything to advance gender equity in sports — are even attacking trans kids who simply want to participate on sports teams with their friends. All kids, including transgender kids, should have the opportunity to learn sportsmanship, challenge themselves, and join a community that affirms who they are and provides a safe space for them to grow.

The House of Representatives has already considered two anti-LGBTQI+ bills on the House floor in the past few months. I was disgusted to see both pass the House, but grateful that all of my Democratic colleagues not only voted against, but many also spoke out vocally against these bills. Although my time in the House is coming to an end, I know my colleagues will continue to vocally oppose these attacks on our community.

But, we can’t win this fight alone. This Pride, let us all recommit as a society to fighting back against these attacks and advocating for equal rights in the U.S. and around the world.

LGBTQI+ youth are counting on us. Their lives are on the line with so much hate directly targeting them and their families.

Let’s remember that Pride started as a riot — a deafening call for equality and a brutal fight against injustice. We need to harness that strength and power as we speak out now in support of the most vulnerable among us.

It has been the greatest honor of my life to represent the people of Rhode Island’s First District in the House of the Representatives, and I am proud to have also been a voice for LGBTQI+ people across the country. While my role will change in the months ahead, my commitment to equality will never waiver. I hope you will continue to join me in the fight.

U.S. Democratic Rep. David Cicilline represents Rhode Island and has been chair and co-chair of the Equality Caucus. His last day in Congress is May 31, 2023.

Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.

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