Former Providence Mayor Vincent A. Cianci, Jr. will be at a hearing in Supreme Court tomorrow, Tuesday, September 23, in relation to a complaint filed against him by two Providence firefighters who objected to being ordered to participate in the 2001 Gay Pride Parade. The hearing is scheduled for 9:30 AM. The Supreme Court is located on the 7th floor of the Frank Licht Judicial Complex, 250 Benefit Street, Providence.
In June 2001, the organizers of the Gay Pride Parade requested that a Providence fire truck be part of the parade. Mayor Cianci directed the Fire Department to participate. The fire chief at the time, James Rattigan, assigned the nearest Engine Company, Engine 7, on North Main Street, to the parade. The two firefighters assigned to the truck objected, citing moral, ethical and religious grounds. Chief Rattigan ordered them to participate.
Three years later, both firefighters filed a complaint in Providence County Superior Court alleging constitutional violations. The City of Providence Law Department filed a Motion to Dismiss Mayor Cianci and Chief Rattigan. The Motion was granted on all counts except for two constitutional counts. The City’s Law Department then filed a Motion based on qualified immunity, stating that there is no constitutional right to refuse a direct work order and, even if there were, there was no reason for the Mayor and the Fire Chief to believe they were violating the firefighters’ rights.
The Motion was denied and the case reached for trial. A Motion for a stay of the trial was denied in Superior Court but granted in Supreme Court. The City filed a petition for a writ of certiorari that was granted, and the case was assigned to a full briefing that will be argued tomorrow.
A matter of policy
“Our policy was to send a fire truck to any parade that made the request, if one was available and the truck’s participation did not compromise public safety," said Cianci. "Why should the Gay Pride Parade be any different than the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the Purim Parade, or any parade in Providence? It shouldn’t, and it wasn’t.”
As Mayor, Cianci was the first elected official in the state to institute domestic partner (DP) benefits for Providence union employees, entitling union members to benefits for their gay or heterosexual unmarried domestic partners. The DP benefits include health coverage and bereavement leave. The Providence Teachers Union, the Laborers Union, the Providence Firefighters and Police Unions all first signed contracts establishing these benefits in 1999 and 2000.
The first Mayor of Providence to fly the rainbow flag over City Hall and to serve as Grand Marshal of the Gay Pride Parade, Cianci—in 1997—also was the first elected official in Rhode Island to establish the Office of Gay Liaison within his administration and to appoint members of the city’s LGBTQ community to this position. He also stepped up the efforts of the Providence Police Department to address and enforce the hate crimes law and supported a violence recovery program.
Among the many recognitions accorded to Cianci for his support of the city’s LGBTQ community was “The Political Ally Award” presented to him at the annual conference of the International Network of Lesbian and Gay Officials, held in Providence in November, 1999. The award reads, “In recognition of his courageous and groundbreaking efforts at advocating for equal rights and full citizenship for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Community in the City of Providence. We present this award to a politician willing to stand up for what is right and just for all the people he represents, unafraid of espousing public policy that protects the civil rights of the LGBT people of the Great City of Providence, a genuine Ally in Pride.”
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