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Gay R.I. House speaker steps down

Gordon Fox, Rhode Island, Democratic Party, Democratic National Convention, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence) on March 22 announced he will step down after authorities raided his office and home. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence) on March 22 resigned his post a day after federal and state authorities raided his office and home as part of an undisclosed criminal investigation.

“Because of the respect I have for all members of the House of Representatives, I am resigning as speaker,” said the Providence Democrat in a statement that also announced he would not seek re-election as the Associated Press reported. “The process of governing must continue and the transition of leadership must be conducted in an orderly manner.”

Fox, 52, in 2010 became the country’s first openly gay House speaker.

He sparked controversy among some LGBT rights advocates in 2011 when he sponsored a civil unions bill after it became clear a measure that would have allowed gays and lesbians to marry did not have enough votes in the Rhode Island Senate.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee last May signed a same-sex marriage bill into law that Fox spearheaded.

Fox and his partner, Marcus LaFond, wed after the law took effect last August.

Lawmakers on Tuesday elected House Majority Leader Nick Mattielo (D-Cranston) to succeed Fox.


Cartoon: The (mostly) gutsy Northeast

One (or two) of these states is not like the others...

One (or two) of these states is not like the others…


The class of Edie Windsor

Edith Windsor, Edie Windsor, gay news, marriage equality, same sex marriage, gay marriage, Washington Blade

Edie Windsor wasn’t alone, but comes from an entire generation of great, strong lesbians. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

My friend Roslyn Garfield of Provincetown, Mass., was a pioneer. Now that she has died at age 91, I can call her that. She wouldn’t hear of it when she was alive. And forget calling her a role model. When she said, “Do not call me an R.M.,” it was like a slap upside the head.

Roslyn grew up in Providence, R.I., graduated high school and moved to New York to get a bachelor’s from NYU, and a master’s from Columbia. She lived in Greenwich Village and was known as Danny. On her way to classes, she would stop at the gay bar run by the mafia and put her dollar down for their happy hour drink special on her way home.

The men who ran the place took a shine to her and would take her aside to warn her about women they saw her flirt with — “That one is trouble.” When they heard she was having trouble paying her electric bill, someone went over to her walk-up, rigged the box and she never received another bill.

After graduation, she taught health at a girl’s school in North Carolina and left just before they fired her for being a lesbian. She took all her money and moved to Paris. After a year, when her money ran out, she returned to New York and in 1956 on a whim one night took a ride with a friend to Provincetown. They arrived before sunrise and slept in the dunes. She fell in love with the town.

In Ptown, Roslyn had many careers. She was a guidance counselor and field hockey coach at a local high school. During the summers she worked packing fish in the ice-house. She was an antiques dealer, shop owner and successful Realtor. She was also a successful butch with great stories of the minister’s wife, summer visitors and martini afternoons in her Boston Whaler.

Phyllis Temple, a gorgeous femme from New York, visited Ptown in 1968, and Roslyn went into serious wooing mode. Phyllis left Manhattan and moved to be with Roslyn. Eventually Phyllis took over the real estate business and encouraged Roslyn at age 50 to get a law degree. Phyllis, an avid reader, never got a library card because she said she didn’t want the commitment.  Nonetheless, they were together for 40 years.

Roslyn began practicing law in 1977 and though she was known for her hours of pro bono work during the AIDS epidemic in Ptown, she preferred to tell another story. She once convinced a judge that her client, arrested for jerking off in the dunes, had just finished peeing and was merely shaking off the last drop.

For nearly 60 years she navigated the changes in small-town politics and civil society. She was involved in the arts, the film festival and coastal studies.   For 18 years she was Town Moderator and wielded a deft gavel during contentious annual town meetings. She loved her community.

Roslyn was also a l’chaim poster girl. She was a gourmet cook, rare books collector, bonsai grower, Red Sox fanatic, tennis player, world traveler, jazz lover and devoted partner. Late in life she took up the cello. She said she loved how it felt between her legs. She built a harpsichord for Phyllis. She took up drawing, “mostly the figure classes,” she’d say and nudge-nudge, wink-wink me. Until two months before she died, she drove her beloved Mercedes Benz down Commercial Street. All the locals knew to dive for the bushes.

In this summer season of celebration of the courageous Edie Windsor and her lioness-hearted stand against DOMA at the Supreme Court, I celebrate Roslyn Garfield and the many courageous old lesbians, especially the butches, who came out and made a difference in their communities and in the world.


College cancels gay marriage lecture

John Corvino, gay news, Washington Blade

Dr. John Corvino of Wayne State University in Detroit was to have spoken at the event. (Photo courtesy of

PROVIDENCE, R.I.—A Catholic college in Rhode Island has cancelled a lecture that a prominent same-sex marriage supporter had been scheduled to give on Thursday.

Hugh Lena, provost and senior vice president of Providence College, cited a 2004 statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in an e-mail the New York Times reported he sent on Sept. 21 that announced the cancellation of the event at which Dr. John Corvino of Wayne State University in Detroit was to have spoken.

“The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ statement that Lena referenced reads. “They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

Rhode Island is among the 13 states and D.C. in which gays and lesbians can legally marry.

Lena announced his decision to cancel Corvino’s lecture two days after Jesuit journals across the world published an interview with Pope Francis in which he said the Catholic Church has grown “obsessed” with same-sex marriage and other social issues.

“Pope Francis, the Catholic Church’s new leader, has been justly celebrated for his welcoming tone towards gays and lesbians,” Corvino wrote on his website. “Notwithstanding my abrupt dis-invitation, I remain hope that Providence College may soon reflect that tone.”


Trans man coaches high school sports

basketball hoop, sports, gay news, Washington Blade, Stephen Alexander

Stephen Alexander was also a member of Ponaganset High School’s basketball team that won four state championships in the 1990s. (Creative Commons license by

GLOCESTER, R.I.—A transgender Rhode Island man is believed to be the only out trans person in the country to coach high school sports. on Nov. 12 reported Stephen Alexander has coached basketball, tennis, volleyball, soccer and baseball at middle and high schools in his hometown outside Providence. Alexander was also a member of Ponaganset High School’s basketball team that won four state championships in the 1990s.

Alexander played basketball at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass., after he graduated high school in 1996.

He later moved to New York City where he transitioned from a woman to a man. His parents traveled to be with him when he underwent sex reassignment surgery.

“If I didn’t transition, I would not be alive today,” Alexander told


R.I. Senate committee schedules hearing on marriage bill

Rhode Island, Donna Nesselbush, gay news, Washington Blade

Donna Nesselbush (Photo public domain)

A Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee on March 21 will hold a hearing on a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry in the state.

The hearing will take place nearly two months after the state House of Representatives approved the measure introduced by state Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Cranston) by a 51-19 vote margin. Lesbian state Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket) sponsored the proposal in the Senate.

Lawmakers will also consider a bill introduced by state Sen. Frank Ciccone (D-Providence) that would place the marriage bill before Rhode Island voters in 2014 if it were to become law.

Rhode Island remains the only New England state in which gays and lesbians cannot marry.

The state’s civil unions law took effect in 2011, but only a few dozen couples have taken advantage of it. Governor Lincoln Chafee last year signed an executive order that ordered state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut and other jurisdictions.

“So many of us feel that this is long overdue here in Rhode Island,” Chafee told the Washington Blade in January. “The fact we’re trailing other New England states in passing marriage equality is added incentive to get it done this year on the 350th anniversary of the charter.”


R.I. Senate committee holds hearing on marriage bills

Rhode Island, Donna Nesselbush, gay news, Washington Blade

Donna Nesselbush

The Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday held a marathon hearing on a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

“I am your teammate and it’s just not right the way our laws currently discriminate against me in my earnest desire to marry Kelly,” state Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket,) who introduced Senate Bill 38 in the Senate, said during the start of the hearing that lasted more than 12 hours. A member of the audience booed the lawmaker after she spoke about her partner.

Governor Lincoln Chafee stressed the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples would benefit the state’s economy — Rhode Island’s 9.8 percent unemployment rate remains one of the highest in the country.

“We need to grow our economy,” Chafee said. “Now’s the time to end this discrimination in Rhode Island against gays.”

State Treasurer Gina Raimondo referenced her husband and two young children during her testimony in support of the same-sex marriage bill.

“Every Rhode Islander deserves the same civil rights we have,” she said. “Every child deserves the same rights our children have to grow up within the context of a loving married couple.”

State Sen. Dawson Hodgson (R-North Kingstown) referenced former Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman and the more than 100 other Republicans who signed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples in the case that challenges the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8. He also cited former Vice President Dick Cheney and other members of the GOP who back the issue during his testimony.

“The freedom to marry represents the basic conservative values of responsibility and fidelity,” Hodgson said.

Kelly Frederick of the Alliance Defending Freedom said marriage and civil unions for same-sex couples in Massachusetts, D.C. and Illinois “forced” Catholic Charities in the three jurisdictions “out of the adoption business because of their religious beliefs.” Rev. Bernard Healey of St. Luke’s Church in Barrington testified against Senate Bill 38 on behalf of the Diocese of Providence.

“Marriage should not be redefined,” he said. “It radically redefines marriage for everybody in the state.”

The committee heard testimony on the same-sex marriage measure and Senate Bill 708, a measure sponsored by state Sen. Frank Ciccone (D-Providence) that would place a proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman in the state on the 2014 ballot, less than a week before the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in cases that challenge Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.

Neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut are among the nine states and D.C. that allow same-sex marriage.

Rhode Island’s civil unions law took effect in 2011, but only a few dozen couples have taken advantage of it. Chafee last year signed an executive order that ordered state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions.

Ciccone is among those who spoke in support of SB 708.

“What people do in their bedrooms can never compare to what African Americans went through during slavery,” state Sen. Harold Metts (D-Providence) said as he criticized comparisons between the same-sex marriage movement and the civil rights struggle. “The Bible is clear: marriage is between one man and one woman.”

State Sens. Leonidas Raptakis (D-Coventry) and James Doyle (D-Pawtucket) were among the SB 708 co-sponsors, but they removed their names as supporters earlier this week. Doyle also announced he will vote for the same-sex marriage bill if it reaches the Senate floor.

State Sen. Nicholas Kettle (R-Coventry) on Wednesday announced he too would no longer back Ciccone’s bill.

“Since this bill was introduced, thousands of Rhode Islanders have called their senators and urged them to take a stand against this divisive legislation,” Ray Sullivan, campaign director for Rhode Islanders United for Marriage, said. “The proposed referendum bill is neither a compromise, nor an ‘eminently reasonable’ solution to the question of allowing all Rhode Islanders to marry the person they love.”


Chair of Ill. GOP urges lawmakers to support same-sex marriage bill

Illinois State Capitol, Springfield, gay news, Washington Blade

Illinois State Capitol (Photo by Meagan Davis via wikimedia commons)

The chair of the Illinois Republican Party on Wednesday urged state lawmakers to support a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry.

“More and more Americans understand that if two people want to make a lifelong commitment to each other, government should not stand in their way,” Pat Brady told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Giving gay and lesbian couples the freedom to get married honors the best conservative principles. It strengthens families and reinforces a key Republican value — that the law should treat all citizens equally.”

Gay former Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman, who lobbied lawmakers in Maryland and New York to support same-sex marriage measures in their respective states, also urged Illinois lawmakers to vote for the bill.

“Republicans should support the freedom to marry in Illinois, consistent with our core conservative belief in freedom and liberty for all,” Mehlman said in a statement that Illinois Unites for Marriage, a coalition of groups that supports the same-sex marriage law, released. “Allowing civil marriage for same-sex couples will cultivate community stability, encourage fidelity and commitment and foster strong family values.”

Brady, who stressed he was expressing his own views and not those of the state GOP, announced his support for the same-sex marriage bill on the same day the 15-member Illinois Senate Executive Committee was expected to consider the measure. (The Windy City Times reported late on Wednesday members are expected to vote on the bill state Sen. Heather Steans introduced on Thursday.)

Lawmakers have until the end of the current legislative session on Jan. 8 to vote on the same-sex marriage bill. Governor Pat Quinn has said he will sign the measure, while a White House spokesperson told the Chicago Sun-Times on Saturday that President Obama also supports the measure.

Chicago Archbishop Cardinal Francis George urged parishioners to oppose efforts to extend marriage rights to gays and lesbians in a letter that parishes distributed on Sunday.

Equality Illinois CEO optimistic bill will pass

Same-sex couples can legally marry in nine states and D.C., while Illinois is among the handful of other states that allow gays and lesbians to enter into civil unions.

Gay marriage referenda passed in Maryland, Maine and Washington in November, while Minnesota voters on Election Day struck down a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Maryland’s same-sex marriage law took effect on New Year’s Day, while gays and lesbians began to tie the knot in Maine and Washington on Saturday and Dec. 9 respectively.

Lawmakers in Delaware, Hawaii, New Jersey and Rhode Island are expected to consider measures later this year that would allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot.

Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov told the Washington Blade during an interview from Springfield, the state capital, earlier on Wednesday he remains optimistic lawmakers will support the same-sex marriage bill. He said he feels recent legislative and electoral advances on the issue in other states will spur more Illinois lawmakers to support it.

“In the past they kept us, the advocates, say to them that this is the right thing to do politically and morally,” Cherkasov said. “Now for the first time they’ve had a chance to see actually that the voters said this is the right thing to do politically and morally. So they didn’t need to trust just the activists and the advocates anymore. They can look at a clear record of successes from four states of voters being supportive of marriage equality.”


Marriage vote expected in R.I. Senate

Rhode Island Senate, M. Teresa Paiva-Weed, gay news, Washington Blade

Rhode Island Senate President M. Teresa Paiva-Weed (Photo courtesy of Paiva-Weed’s office)

PROVIDENCE, R.I.—Rhode Island Senate President M. Teresa Paiva-Weed told the March 21 hearing on the measure that took place in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The state House of Representatives in January overwhelmingly approved it.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee has said he will sign into law if it passes in the Senate.


R.I. lawmakers introduce same-sex marriage bills

Rhode Island, Donna Nesselbush, gay news, Washington Blade

Donna Nesselbush

Two Rhode Island legislators on Thursday introduced bills that would legalize same-sex marriage in the Ocean State.

“We are long overdue,” state Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Cranston,) who has introduced a same-sex marriage bill in the Rhode Island House of Representatives each year for more than a decade, said. “Rhode Island, the colony founded on the principle of personal liberty, is now the only New England state that doesn’t allow same-gender couples equal marriage. Rhode Islanders recognize that same-gender couples deserve the rights and responsibilities that other couples already enjoy, and support has been getting wider every year.”

Openly lesbian state Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket) introduced a similar proposal in the Senate.

“After many years, I have finally found the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with, the woman I want to marry,” she said. “We are both spiritual and want to deepen and strengthen our devotion. We are deeply in love, and are hoping and praying for marriage equality so we can tie the knot. But this is not about me or us. This is about the thousands of loving gay and lesbian couples who want and deserve the right to marry.”

Nine states and D.C. currently allow same-sex marriage.

Less than 50 couples have taken advantage of Rhode Island’s civil unions law since it took effect in July 2011. The Ocean State remains the only New England state without a same-sex marriage law.

Forty-two members of the House have co-sponsored the measure in their chamber, while 11 state senators signed onto Nesselbush’s proposal. Gay House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence) said he remains committed to bringing the measure to a full vote by the end of this month.

Nesselbush said Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Newport,) who opposes marriage rights for same-sex couples, has also pledged to allow a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee once the House approves it.

“With nine states, the District of Columbia and the president of the United States all embracing marriage equality, we have never been closer,” Nesselbush said. “Let this be the year Rhode Island joins the burgeoning force for equality that is sweeping our nation.”

Ray Sullivan, campaign manager of Marriage Equality Rhode Island, applauded the lawmakers who introduced the measures. He noted to the Washington Blade on Thursday that 53 of the state’s 113 legislators signed onto the measures as co-sponsors.

“We’ve been working and building towards this moment for a very long time,” Sullivan said. “The momentum is palpable and it’s great to see so many pro-equality legislators standing up for equal rights for all loving committed couples.”

Governor Lincoln Chafee signed an executive order last year mandating state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in neighboring Massachusetts, Connecticut and other states. He has publicly backed nuptials for gays and lesbians, and said he will sign a same-sex marriage bill if one were to reach his desk.