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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 approves marriage bill

Rhode Island, Donna Nesselbush, gay news, Washington Blade

Donna Nesselbush

A Rhode Island Senate committee on Tuesday voted to advance a bill that would allow same-sex marriage in the state.

The 7-4 vote came a month after the Senate Judiciary Committee held a marathon hearing on Senate Bill 38. The Rhode Island House of Representatives in January overwhelmingly approved the same-sex marriage proposal.

“We have before us a historic piece of legislation,” state Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket,) who sponsored SB 38, said before the vote took place.

Ray Sullivan, campaign director for Rhode Islanders United for Marriage, applauded the committee’s vote.

“This is an incredible and historic step forward in the campaign to ensure all loving, committed couples in Rhode Island have the freedom to marry,” he said. “We are pleased and proud that the members of the Judiciary Committee were so receptive to the thousands of their constituents who reached out and urged them to vote yes on Sen. Nesselbush’s bill.”

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. Governor Lincoln Chafee, who supports nuptials for gays and lesbians, last year signed an executive order that ordered state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions.

“Rhode Island currently stands as an island of inequality in our region,” Chafee said in a statement after the vote. “At this time of intense economic competition, we cannot afford to lag behind our New England neighbors and New York in this important area.”

The full Senate will vote on SB 38 tomorrow afternoon.

GOP senators back marriage bill

All five members of the Senate Republican Caucus announced their support of the proposal hours before the committee approved it.

“We support Senate Bill 38 because it rightfully extends the civil aspects of marriage to all Rhode Islanders while protecting the freedom of religion our state was founded upon,” state Sens. Dennis Algiere, David Bates, Dawson Hodgson, Nicholas Kettle and Chris Ottiano said in a joint statement. “Gay and lesbian couples deserve to be treated equally under the law, and at the same time churches, synagogues and mosques in our state must be free to exercise their faith and their sacraments as they see fit. This bill strikes the right balance and should be passed by the Senate.”

Committee members on Tuesday also voted 6-5 to kill a measure that would have placed a proposed constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman in Rhode Island on the 2014 ballot.

“Members of the committee heard from their constituents in strong opposition to putting fundamental rights on the ballot, and we thank them for defeating this divisive and harmful referendum bill,” Sullivan said.


Va. lawmakers kill proposal to repeal gay marriage ban

James Parrish, Equality Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee on Monday voted 6-1 to kill a proposal that would have repealed the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Delegate Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) introduced HJ665 on Jan. 9, the first day of the current legislative session. He told the Washington Blade after the vote he feels “people affirming their love to each other and living in committed relationships is a universal human right.”

“It’s a civil right,” Surovell said. “I don’t think that the constitution should prohibit the government from recognizing people’s love and commitment to each other solely because of their sexual orientation. I think it’s wrong and it’s hateful.”

Delegate Rob Krupicka (D-Alexandria,) who is among the more than two dozen legislators who co-sponsored HJ665, expressed disappointment that the House Privileges and Elections Constitutional Amendments Subcommittee killed the proposal.

“Virginia is going to have to re-visit this issue either because the public demands it, because we are forced to by the Supreme Court or because corporations make it clear that they’d rather move to D.C. or Maryland in order to protect their employees,” he told the Blade in a statement. “Marshall-Newman is so broadly worded, that it puts even basic contracts in question. Ultimately, I’d like us to be talking about an amendment to add marriage freedom to our constitution. But as today’s action shows, we have work to do to even allow for basic contract rights between two people.”

Delegate David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) agreed.

“I did not support the Marshall-Newman amendment when it passed and believe the time is now for it to be repealed,” he said.

Virginians in 2006 approved the amendment by a 57-43 percent margin.

A similar ban passed in neighboring North Carolina in May by a 61-39 percent margin.

Maryland is among the nine states and D.C. that allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot. Lawmakers in Delaware, Rhode Island, Illinois and New Jersey are expected to debate same-sex marriage proposals in the coming weeks.

“We’re deeply disappointed that the House committee has voted to overlook this resolution that would repeal Marshall-Newman,” Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish said. “It’s a shame that Virginia cannot catch up with a wave of national change since marriage equality is now a winning issue on the ballot.”

Surovell conceded to the Blade he was “not optimistic going into” today’s hearing in spite of public opinion polls that indicate growing public support for marriage rights for same-sex couples in Virginia since voters approved the Marshall-Newman amendment. He referenced the House of Delegates’ vote last May against gay prosecutor Tracy Thorne-Begland’s nomination to the Richmond General Court to further prove his point.

The Richmond General Court in June appointed Thorne-Begland on an interim basis because lawmakers failed to fill the vacancy — his term is slated to end at the end of next month if legislators do not approve his appointment. Members of the General Assembly Committee of Judicial Appointments are schedule to interview Thorne-Begland later today.

“I suspect that the only thing that will change whether this [SJ665] eventually passes is the change in control of the House of Delegates because the current majority is beholden to the Family Foundation,” Surovell said. “Last year I had a surreal evening when at 1 a.m. on the last day of session I’m sitting there watching my body debate whether a 14-year decorated naval aviator who’s been putting away murderers for five years is qualified to be a judge presiding over traffic tickets because he happened to live in a committed same-sex relationship with children while the Family Foundation sits in the balcony watching the whole thing. I thought there was something wrong with that. That’s the way it is in Virginia right now.”


R.I. Senate approves same-sex marriage bill

Rhode Island Statehouse, gay news, Washington Blade

Rhode Island Statehouse (Photo by Max Binder via Wikimedia Commons)

The Rhode Island state Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry in the Ocean State.

The 26-12 vote came a day after the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the measure.

“Of all the bills I will ever sponsor, this will be the bill that will have the most impact on my life,” state Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket,) who sponsored Senate Bill 38, said before the vote. She specifically thanked Senate President M. Teresa Paiva-Weed (D-Newport,) who opposes same-sex marriage, for allowing a vote in the chamber.

State Sen. Dawson Hodgson (R-North Kingstown,) who is among the five members of the Senate Republican Caucus who on Tuesday announced their support of SB 38, said before the vote he backs the proposal because of “dignity, fairness and the rule of law.” Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-Providence) repeatedly highlighted her Catholic faith before she announced she would vote for the measure.

“I will be casting my vote on the side of love,” she said.

Neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut are among the nine states and D.C. in which gays and lesbians can legally marry.

Rhode Island’s civil unions law took effect in 2011, but less than 100 couples have taken advantage of it. Governor Lincoln Chafee last year signed an executive order that mandated state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions.

Senators rejected an proposed amendment to SB 38 by state Sen. Frank Ciccone (D-Providence) that would have placed the issue before Rhode Island voters in 2014. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday struck down the Providence Democrat’s referendum bill by a 6-5 vote margin.

Other same-sex marriage opponents also spoke out against SB 38 before it passed.

“The Bible is clear: marriage is between one man and one woman,” state Sen. Harold Metts (D-Providence) said. “God’s word places me in opposition to Senate Bill 38.

The Rhode Island House of Representatives, which in January overwhelmingly approved its own same-sex marriage bill, is expected to grant final approval to SB 38 on May 2 once it goes through the House Judiciary Committee.

Chafee has said he will sign the bill into law.

“Pending the final vote by the House of Representatives, Rhode Island will no longer be an outlier in our region,” the governor said in a statement. “We will have the welcome mat out. We will be open for business, and we will once again affirm our legacy as a place that is tolerant and appreciative of diversity.”

State Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Cranston,) who introduced the same-sex marriage bill in the House, also welcomed SB 38′s passage.

“For the many Rhode Islanders who have been waiting all their lives for equality and recognition that they deserve the same rights and responsibilities as their neighbors, today is a great relief,” he said. “At last, marriage equality is going to happen.”

Same-sex marriage is expected to become legal in Rhode Island on Aug. 1.


Chafee: Same-sex marriage is ‘long overdue’ in R.I.

Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island, gay news, Washington Blade

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee speaks at a press conference on Monday that announced a coalition of groups in support of the state’s same-sex marriage law. (Photo courtesy of Christian Vareika)

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee on Monday said that extending marriage rights to same-sex couples is consistent with the civil and religious liberties his state’s founding fathers sought more than three centuries ago.

“First of all, it’s again coming back here in Rhode Island with another effort to pass what we should have passed a long time ago, considering our history as the first really to have tolerance in the colonies of the New World,” the governor told the Washington Blade a few hours after he joined other elected officials and advocates at a Providence church where they announced a coalition in support of the same-sex marriage bills state Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Cranston) and lesbian state Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket) introduced earlier this month. “Roger Williams fled persecution and then enshrined here in 1663 in a royal charter granted by King Charles II, really the first liberties in civil and religious areas ever not only in the New World, but in the world. We’re celebrating the 350th anniversary of that 1663 charter this year, so we’re all getting reacquainted with those liberties that granted those many years ago.”

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the same-sex marriage bill later today.

Chafee, who signed Rhode Island’s civil unions bill into law in 2011 in spite of his own misgivings about it, signed an executive order last year ordering state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut and other jurisdictions. In spite of this mandate, Rhode Island remains the only New England state in which gays and lesbians cannot tie the knot.

“So many of us feel that this is long overdue here in Rhode Island 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,” the governor said.

Chafee, a former Republican U.S. senator who became an independent before his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, spoke with the Blade less than a week after White House spokesperson Shin Inouye reaffirmed President Obama’s support of nuptials for gays and lesbians in response to a question about Rhode Island’s same-sex bills. Inouye also told the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper late last month that the president would vote for a same-sex marriage bill in the Illinois State Legislature if he were still a member of it.

Obama’s re-election campaign in late October urged voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington to support same-sex marriage referenda in their respective states. It also urged Minnesotans earlier in the year to vote against a proposal that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman in their state’s constitution.

All three same-sex marriage referenda passed on Nov. 6, while Minnesota voters struck down the proposed constitutional amendment that would have banned nuptials for gays and lesbians in their state.

“Well you know better than I do what’s happening around the country, especially in the 2012 elections in the referenda that were out there and the success marriage equality had,” Chafee said in response to whether nuptials for same-sex couples in Rhode Island would resonate beyond New England. “I don’t know if it’s too earth-shattering when Rhode Island finally gets on board, but being a very heavily Roman Catholic state — we’re the most heavily Roman Catholic state in the country — that message would be important, that even our Roman Catholics here support marriage equality. And that is true.”

Gay House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence) said earlier this month he remains committed to bringing the same-sex marriage measure to a full vote in his chamber by the end of January. Though she is opposed to nuptials for gays and lesbians, Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Newport,) has also pledged to allow a vote on the issue in the Senate Judiciary Committee once the House approves it.

“They’re on the fast-track in the House,” Chafee said. “Here in Rhode Island in the Senate we’re counting the noses. I would hope that they deal with it quickly and let’s move on to the economic issues and other issues. I see this is also is an economic issue, but let’s pass this and I’ll sign it and we’ll tackle some of the more thornier issues out there.”

Chafee further referenced Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, who was then-Senate President Pro Tempore of his state’s legislature in 2009 when his chamber voted 26-4 to approve a same-sex marriage bill, in spite of predictions that the margin would have been far closer.

“He said, let’s just call the roll. Just call the roll. Stop hemming and hawing and it was 26-4,” Chafee said. “That was back in 2009. I would think it would be even stronger here now. Call the roll. And that’s what I said at the press conference: Call the roll on history; Call the role on the rights of our gay, lesbian friends and neighbors and loved ones; call the roll on the economy and the economic issues that are important here.”


Rhode Island same-sex marriage bill becomes law

Lincoln Chafee, Democratic National Convention, gay news, Washington Blade

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee on Thursday signed a bill that will allow same-sex couples to marry in the Ocean State.

“Today we are making history,” he said. “We are living up to the ideals of our founders.”

Rhode Islanders United for Marriage Campaign Director Ray Sullivan, gay House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence) and other same-sex marriage supporters joined Chafee on the steps of the State House in Providence as he signed the measure into law. The state House of Representatives gave final approval to the bill by a 56-15 vote margin less than an hour before the signing ceremony.

“This law does not take anything away from a heterosexual couple,” lesbian state Rep. Deb Ruggiero (D-Jamestown) said. “Nothing is going to change, but tomorrow morning for gays and lesbians it’s going to be a very, very different world.”

State Rep. Grace Diaz (D-Providence) referenced her gay brother when she spoke in support of the measure.

“I rise in support of love in the state of Rhode Island,” she said.

Deputy Majority Leader Arthur Corvese (D-North Providence,) who introduced a bill that would have prompted a same-sex marriage referendum in 2014, once again spoke against nuptials for gays and lesbians before the vote.

“There is no man made law that can ever replace, supplant, suppress or subjugate the natural law,” he said.

Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Diocese of Providence urged Rhode Island Catholics in a letter that will run in its newspaper on May 9 they should “examine their consciences very carefully” before they decide to “endorse same-sex relationships or attend same-sex ceremonies.”

“Like many others, I am profoundly disappointed that Rhode Island has approved legislation that seeks to legitimize ‘same-sex marriage,’” he writes.

Christopher Plante, regional director of the Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Marriage, also criticized the bill’s passage.

“Redefining marriage into a genderless institution to satisfy the demands of a small but politically powerful group is short-sighted policy that fails to take into account the rights and needs of the generations to come,” he told the Providence Journal before Chafee signed it into law.

Rhode Island is the 10th state to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Gays and lesbians can legally exchange vows in neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut as well as in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Maryland, Iowa, Washington and D.C. The Delaware Senate on Tuesday is scheduled to vote on a bill that would allow same-sex marriage in the First State.

“This is a great day in Rhode Island,” Fox said. “It is also a wonderful day for the generations of future Rhode Islanders who may never know a time when some people didn’t have all the same rights as others, and who hopefully will grow up wondering how on earth that ever could have been the law.”

“Governor, with the stroke of your pen, you will undo centuries of discrimination,” state Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket,) who introduced the bill in the state Senate, added before Chafee signed the measure into law. “Our moment has arrived.”

Rhode Island’s same-sex marriage law will take effect on Aug. 1.