U.S. Rep. David Cicilline was the keynote speaker at the "LGBTQ Leaders in Higher Education: Shaping Our Futures" conference hosted by LGBTQ Presidents in Higher Education June 27 at Chicago's Adler University.
LGBTQ Presidents in Higher Education began in 2010 and its mission is, according to its website, "to advance effective leadership in the realm of post-secondary education, support professional development of LGBTQ leaders in that sector and provide education and advocacy regarding LGBTQ issues within the global academy and for the public at large."
Chuck Middleton, outgoing president of Roosevelt University, and The Very Rev. Katherine Ragsdale, former president and dean of Episcopal Divinity School, have served as the organization's co-chairs since its formation; following the conference, they will be stepping down. The incoming co-chairs are Ray Crossman, president of Adler University, and Karen Whitney, president of Clarion University. Middleton, Ragsdale, Crossman and Whitney are also among the co-founders of the organization.
The conference, which took place June 26-28, was the first-of-its-kind and featured professional development for advancement and promotion of LGBTQ leaders ( including the presidency ) within universities and colleges as well as community-building and networking opportunities. There was also an opening plenary, "The Path to Successful Leadership," featuring remarks by Whitney; Theodora Kalikow, interim vice-chancellor and president emerita at the University of Maine System; and Ralph Hexter, provost and executive vice chancellor at University of California-Davis. Middleton took center stage at the closing plenary with a speech, "From Seventeen to Seventy: The Clarion Call of Freedom Ringing."
Cicilline has served as a member of the U. S. Congress since 2011, representing Rhode Island's First Congressional District. Prior to that, Cicilline was mayor of Providence from 2003 to 2011. He holds the distinction of being the first openly gay mayor of a U.S. state capital.
Cicilline told the approximately 100 university and college presidents, administrators and professors in attendance that although the LGBTQ community has made great strides, including the previous day's U. S. Supreme Court ruling in the Obergefell v. Hodges case that granted marriage equality nationwide, there's still a lot of work to be done to achieve full equality in all areas of life.
Cicilline spoke about how Chicago gave birth to President Obama's political career and noted his achievements since taking office in 2009 including the Affordable Care Act and the economic recovery following the Great Recession.
"In my opinion, President Obama's record of support for LGBTQ equality is what truly sets him apart," said Cicilline. "There is no question in my mind that there hasn't been a stronger advocate for our community ever to serve in the Oval Office."
Cicilline said that it has taken decades of work by many people, including straight allies, to get to where the LGBTQ community is today in terms of equal rights. He explained that Chicago and Illinois have led the way regarding LGBTQ visibility and legislation in a number of ways, including the formation of the first U.S. gay-rights organization, The Society for Human Rights, which was started about 90 years ago in Chicago by Henry Gerber and in 1962 when Illinois became the first state to decriminalize homosexuality by repealing the state's sodomy laws.
He also spoke about the ways that LGBTQ people are still discriminated against in many states across the country and explained that to remedy this he, along with his other co-sponsors, will be introducing a comprehensive LGBTQ anti-discrimination bill covering employment, housing, public accommodations and other core areas of everyday life this summer. A companion bill will also be introduced in the Senate by Jeff Merkley of Oregon.
"I think it's important that we stand up for the African-American community because 'Black Lives Matter,'" said Cicilline. "We need to speak out against police brutality and protect the rights of African-Americans to vote. Our community must stand with Latino's and other immigrants in demanding comprehensive immigration reform and stand with women as they fiercely defend reproductive freedom and demand equal pay for equal work."
Cicilline noted that straight allies have come forward in support of the LGBTQ community, including women and individuals in the African-American and Latino communitieseven though they still face persecution and discrimination because of who they are, so it's important to help them work toward full equality. He said one of the people who has been helpful to him as he's been working on the comprehensive LGBTQ anti-discrimination bill is U.S. Rep. John Lewis.
"I've been very fortunate in my own life," said Cicilline. "I grew up in a family that was very welcoming and embracing of people who are different. My mother is Jewish and my father is Catholic so right there you have a foundation for a very accepting household with lots of guilt of course."
Cicilline said he is lucky that his sexual orientation wasn't an issue with his family because for many people that's not the case. He noted that when he ran for mayor of Providence, it was the first time that there was a public interest in his sexual orientation. Cicilline explained that before he ran for mayor he was thinking of running for Congress and ran into some issues regarding his sexual orientation becoming public during an interview with the Providence Journal. The editor and publisher of the paper wouldn't include Cicilline's answer unless he requested that it be included in the article. Cicilline told the publisher that he was being a homophobe who thinks that being gay was an embarrassing, shameful thing that requires special permission to be included in an articleand told him to let the reporter do his job.
A Q&A session followed Cicilline's remarks.
Academic Keys, Academic Search, AGB Search, Spelman and Johnson Group, Witt Kieffer, National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, the Human Rights Campaign, Campus Pride and Adler University were among the sponsors of the conference.
On the final day of the conference, LGBTQ Presidents in Higher Education participated in Chicago's Pride Parade for the first time.
See www.lgbtqpresidents.org for more information .