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Gay mayor goes to the U.S. House
by Ross Forman
2011-01-05

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David Cicilline was in Washington, D.C., for a December meeting of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, on which he serves. He then made his way over to the House of Representatives for its debate and vote on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Cicilline, the first openly gay mayor of a U.S. state capital (Providence, R.I.), watched first-hand—from the House floor—when the repeal of DADT was passed.

"Being there was great, wonderful. It made me incredibly proud," said Cicilline, a Democrat who has spent the past eight years as mayor of Providence and, on Jan. 3, 2011, moves into the U.S. House of Representatives for Rhode Island's 1st congressional district.

He announced his candidacy for the House last February, for the seat vacated by fellow Democrat Patrick J. Kennedy—and Cicilline ultimately defeated Republican John Loughlin by about 10,000 votes.

"I thought [voting to repeal DADT] was a really important vote because there had been so much discussion about the valor and bravery of members of the LGBT community in the military, and the idea that 13,000 individuals were [kicked out] of the military because of their honesty about who they were seemed to me incredibly tragic and unjust," Cicilline said. "This was great for our country, great for our national security, great for our community.

"For me personally, it was a very proud moment. I was very proud of the members of Congress, and then [the] members of Senate. It made me very proud and gave real meaning to some of our core values as Americans—integrity, honesty, equality, and just all of the things that this country stands for."

Cicilline, 49, served in the Rhode Island House of Representatives for eight years before moving into City Hall in Providence. He was a lawyer before running for the legislature, and took office in January, 1995. He came out during his time in the legislature.

Cicilline now joins a small group of high-profile openly gay politicians, such as U.S. Reps. Barney Frank, Jared Polis and Tammy Baldwin as well as Houston, Texas, Mayor Annise Parker.

"I have enormous respect for [each]," Cicilline said. "They have done so much and have been the pioneers. I feel very honored to join them, and hopefully my presence here [in D.C.] will add to our success as a community and the work that still needs to be done to achieve full equality for all members of the LGBT community."

So when will sexual orientation no longer be a topic of note in politics?

"I don't think we're far from that," he said. "To the next generation, it's almost a non-issue [already].

"We're continuing to make progress in our march toward full equality. We continue to make progress and, over time, we're going to, without question, reach a place in this country where there's full equality for members of our community, where we have all of the rights and responsibilities of every other person in this country.

"The repeal of DADT is really important, a very historic event. And that hopefully will set an example for other organizations and institutions that currently discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation, that is something that should not continue."

And that definitely includes the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a proposed bill in the U.S. Congress that would prohibit discrimination against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity by civilian, nonreligious employers with at least 15 employees.

"We have work to do to pass ENDA and [on] a lot of other fronts, too," Cicilline said. "So long as we continue to push, work hard, and continue to make our case as a community then we continue to see more and more equality, and it eventually will get to the point where we've achieved full equality for our community in this country.

"I don't really know the whole landscape, where the votes are [regarding ENDA]. But, from my perspective, I think ENDA has to be a top priority for our community. The idea that you can still be discharged from employment in many states because of your sexual orientation is something we need to address now. It's a great injustice. I think it's contrary to the core values of this country."

Cicilline hits the gym daily before heading to work. He's lifting weights at about 5:30 a.m., and in the mayor's office often by 7:30 a.m.

He often has work commitments until 11 p.m., or so.

"The job of mayor is pretty inclusive, but fortunately I love doing what I do, so it doesn't really feel like work," Cicilline said. "It's been a great job; I've enjoyed it tremendously.

"I've loved being mayor for the last eight years. I'm very proud of all we've gotten done, and now am really looking forward to Congress and fighting for my State and hopefully doing some good things for my country."

Cicilline, in this exclusive interview with Windy City Times, spoke about several other topics.

—The next session of Congress: "I'm very, very excited. It's hit me—the work has begun. We're already busy putting together staff, putting together an office in the district and in Washington."

—Bullying: "It is a very serious issue," Cicilline said. "We have to ensure that every single child and young person who is studying in our public schools is safe, and has the opportunity to study and learn, and achieve their full potential free from the fear of any violence, bullying or just being unsafe. That's a basic necessity in a learning environment.

"The fact is, bullying goes on all the time in schools all across this country, and it happens disproportionately to LGBT youth. We have to take it seriously. There has to be good education programs, good adult intervention, and good training.

"We've had incredible tragedies [in 2010 due to bullying], not just in our community, but with other young people throughout the country.

"[The bullying] absolutely cannot continue to happen in schools in this country. It's heart-breaking when you hear the stories, and infuriating."

Cicilline said now is the time to implement a serious, national effort to eliminate bullying in schools. And that requires an investment of resources, training, education, and development of a protocol to monitor and evaluate these anti-bullying efforts.

"[The bullying is] not going to end on its own; it requires engagement from the community, from parents, from young people themselves," Cicilline said. "We cannot take [this subject] lightly. We have to make a real effort to respond to this issue; we owe it to the kids in this country to do it."

To that, Cicilline directed the school superintendent in Providence to examine all of the training and education on anti-bullying, to determine if additional training was necessary."

—Illinois passing civil unions: "I think it's a step on our march toward full equality. I'm a proponent of civil marriage; I think that's what full equality means," he said. "The more states that pass it, and the larger states that pass it, that brings more national attention to it—and it's just part of an ongoing effort to achieve full equality."

—The Chicago mayoral race: Cicilline tagged Mayor Daley as "a good friend." Daley hosted a fundraiser for Cicilline in Chicago when he ran for Congress. The two served together in the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Cicilline has a cousin who lives in Chicago, and his finance director came from Illinois.

"I don't know any of the [mayoral] candidates other than Rahm Emanuel, who I don't know [personally]," Cicilline said.


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