Congressman Cicilline advocates for LGBTQ rights

In light of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline spoke at the second annual Stonewall Lecture.

The Stonewall Riots marked a turning point for LGBTQ rights. In June of 1969, New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club located in Greenwich Village. Police roughly escorted patrons out of the bar, which led to six days of protests and violent interactions with officers outside the bar. Now, 50 years later, Cicilline, talks about current LGBTQ policies and their future.

Cicilline is one of seven openly gay people in Congress and the longest serving “out” member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He talked to the audience in a lecture room in the Law School on April 16 about LGBTQ communities and what they endure.

“When someone is discriminated against, they not only are denied their right to achieve their full potential, but the community that they are apart of is robbed of their talents and their achievements,” Cicilline said.

One member of the audience asked the congressman what his thoughts were on the national humanitarian crisis that is happening with asylum seekers.  

“I’ve been to the border twice in the last year in part to see the consequences of the child separation policy and the horrific impact on kids and families,” he said. “There’s definitely a challenge on the border in terms of processing asylum seekers.”

Cicilline said society has to focus on the root of the problem rather than, as the president proposed, cutting off all funding to Central America. He said the United States should actually be increasing funding so they can deal with the challenges that are resulting with the mass migration.

He also said it is hugely important for people to be “out,” because one of the ways progress is made is for people in these communities to “stop being invisible.” He says that often times, knowing someone within the LGBTQ community changes the way people think about those community members.  

“I’m a big proponent of that everyone does it in their own way on their own and on their own schedule. I think so long as you are in public office, you should be honest about who you are,” he said. “Whatever time it takes you to do that, so long as you are not acting contrary to your community and voting against things. To me, that hypocrisy relieves you of the right to keep that process to yourself.”  

Cicilline is co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, which, according to their website, is a “resource for Members of Congress, their staff and the public on LGBT issues at the federal level. The Caucus works toward the extension of equal rights, the repeal of discriminatory laws, the elimination of hate-motivated violence and the improved health and well-being for all regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.”

He hopes that Congress will pass the Equality Act, which he says is a comprehensive Civil Rights bill that will prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. He said he greatly appreciated speaking at this event.

“It is a tremendous honor,” he said. “I was an adjunct faculty member here and this is a moment where they’re honoring the LGBTQ civil rights movement and it was a great thrill to be asked to deliver some remarks.”