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RI activists largely welcome Gordon Fox’s election as first gay House speaker

by Joe Siegel
Contributor
Tuesday Feb 16, 2010
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State Rep. Gordon Fox (D-Providence) became Rhode Island’s first black and openly gay House Speaker last week after his colleagues elected him.

Lawmakers elected Fox, 48, on Feb. 11 to succeed William Murphy (D-West Warwick,) who had held the position since 2003.

Voters first elected Fox to the state legislature in 1992; and he became Majority Leader in 2003. An attorney, Fox is a graduate of Providence College, Rhode Island College, and Northeastern Law School.

In 2004, Fox announced he was gay during a rally for marriage for same-sex couples at the State House. There are only two other openly gay state Reps. - Frank Ferri (D-Warwick) and Deb Ruggiero (D-Jamestown) -- in Rhode Island.

Fox’s partner, Marcus LaFond, was at his side at the State House when Fox recited the oath of office.

Fox is the son of an Irish father and a Cape Verdean mother, who grew up in the Mount Hope area that comprises part of his East Side district.

"I’m the first person of color to hold the office, first openly gay person to hold the office," Fox said in an interview after his historic election. "I hope that somebody watching out there, listening to this, seeing me, can draw energy and strength from that. Some young person can say, you know what, that’s not now something I can’t aspire to, because someone else like me is there and has done it."

Local LGBT activists reacted favorably to Fox’s rise in power, believing he could help make marriage a reality in the Ocean State. Murphy’s vehement opposition to nuptials for gays and lesbians and his efforts to block a marriage bill sparked outrage.

Kathy Kushnir, executive director of Marriage Equality Rhode Island, spoke with EDGE just hours before Fox’s election.

"We would be delighted to see (Gordon Fox) become the new speaker of the House, as a recognition of his years of hard work and commitment to the people of Rhode Island," she said. "We do believe that the Majority Leader’s record of supporting equal rights for all people would be good news for the LGBT community and all Rhode Islanders. Treating all people equally will create a stronger individual, which will create stronger families and, therefore, a stronger community."

Ferri also applauded Fox’s election.

"(Fox) is very qualified and sincerely respects the position and the responsibility it demands," he said. "He is committed to moving [Rhode Island] in a direction that helps us out of our economic recession and improves the quality of living for all families. He is an advocate for equality and should be an inspiration for optimism in our community as well as all Rhode Islanders. It is a time to celebrate the occasion that an openly gay politician has obtained such an important stature.This is truly a historic moment for us."

Wendy Becker of Providence agreed.

"I’m optimistic that it’s good news for progressive politics generally," she said. "There are many issues I care about, including LGBTQ rights, where I feel like we finally have a person in a position of real power on our side. And after the roadblock that was Speaker Murphy, I can’t help but be hopeful."

Not everyone was quick to praise Fox.

Peter Quesnel, a marriage activist, harshly criticized the newly elected House speaker for his stance on the issue.

"Fox has an annoying and uncanny habit of dooming the marriage equality bill almost every year by saying something early in the legislative session like he was quoted as saying yesterday: that the bill is not a priority this year," he said. "For Fox to truly be a leader on this issue, he’s got to stop dismissing the bill before it even gets introduced."

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.

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