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June 13, 2008

Two Ohio lawmakers join new LGBT Equality Caucus

Washington, D.C.--Two Ohio lawmakers are among the charter members of a Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus formed last week.

Reps. Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland and Betty Sutton of Akron, both Democrats, have joined in the venture led by openly lesbian and gay Reps. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Barney Frank of Massachusetts with 61 others, including two Republicans. The caucus was launched on June 4.

Baldwin spokesperson Jerilyn Goodman said that members of the caucus will work on educating other House members on issues of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.

Goodman said Baldwin has wanted to organize such a group for years, but the opportunity to do it came this session after the votes on hate crime legislation in May 2007 and on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in October.

“Until [the Democrats gained a majority in the House], most of the work has just been playing defense,” said Goodman.

On those votes, Goodman explained, Baldwin was a whip, a vote counter for the House leadership.

“She realized there was a need to educate other House members, especially on transgender equality,” Goodman said. “The caucus sprung from the work done last year.”

In order to do that, Baldwin and Frank organized some of the other whips on those two bills into the developing group, which Baldwin and Frank co-chair. The 20 whips became the vice chairs.

Kucinich and Sutton are among the 44 who immediately joined the core group. They are the only Ohio members to do so.

The rest of the Ohio delegation was surveyed to see if any more might join. Only four Republicans replied by press time, all saying no.

Ray Yonkura, chief of staff for Rep. Jim Jordan of Urbana, said Jordan would not be joining the caucus.

Sara Perkins, spokesperson for Rep. David Hobson of Springfield, said Hobson would not be joining “based on that he doesn’t join any” interest groups. Hobson, however, is a member of the Baltic Caucus, interested in the Eastern European nations that were once part of the Soviet Union, and the Diabetes Caucus.

Bruce Pfaff, spokesperson for Rep. Jean Schmidt of Cincinnati, said she will not be joining because she's already a member of many caucuses and can't join any more.

Since Rep. Ralph Regula of Navarre is retiring after this term, said his legislative assistant Brian Werstler, so he will not be joining any more caucuses.

Like the other legislative interest groups, the LGBT Equality Caucus has no budget.

“Baldwin intends this to be a working caucus,” said Goodman. “She hopes it will be a resource for other members, advancing LGBT equality.”

Goodman said the caucus will work on matters that extend beyond federal legislation, into international human rights advocacy.

The caucus membership includes members from 22 states and the District of Columbia. All are Democrats, except for two Republicans: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Chris Shays of Connecticut.

“We represent different races, different genders, different sexual orientations, different geographic regions, different generations, and different parties, but we share a common mission: to promote lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality,” Baldwin said at the press conference launching the caucus.

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