Metro Weekly

Providence City Council member resigns from leadership post after calling transgender activist “it”

Michael Correia made comments about a Black trans activist's breasts and misgendered her in recorded conversation

michael correia, providence, council
Providence City Councilman Michael Correia – Photo: Providence City Council.

A city councilman from Providence, R.I. has resigned his leadership post as the council’s president pro tempore after he referred to a local transgender activist as an “it.”

Councilman Michael Correia (D-Ward 6) apologized for the comment in a Facebook post, saying that the language he used was “inappropriate and offensive.”

“As someone who has spent the greater part of my adult life serving my community and city, I regret that my words may have hurt anyone in the LGBTQIA community, my friends, family colleagues and constituents in that community,” Correia said the post. “I know that LGBTQIA people struggle, face discrimination and abuse and to think that I may have somehow contributed to that sentiment is unacceptable and for that I truly apologize.”

He also personally apologized to the activist he was caught on tape referencing — Justice Gaines, a Black trans woman — for “any hurt I may have inflicted on her.”

“Anyone who knows me knows that I may from time to time try to joke around, but I would do anything to help someone who needed it regardless of who they are or their station in life,” he added.

The recording is one of four that local CBS affiliate WPRI unearthed in October, all of which are part of an internal investigation into Correia that came about because of “multiple complaints,” according to the station.

In one of the recordings, Correia and some staffers are heard talking about Gaines, a longtime activist who frequently engages with the Council and who challenged former Councilmember Seth Yurdin in the 2018 Democratic primary for a seat representing parts of the city’s Fox Point and Downtown neighborhoods.

Following Yurdin’s resignation, Gaines considered running for the vacant seat in a special election in January 2020, but ultimately declined.

On the tape, a staffer is heard quoting a Providence Journal article saying Gaines was “considering taking another shot” at the Ward 1 seat.

“He’s still working on developing his breasts and everything,” Correia responds.

“What was his name before? Justin?” the staffer asks.

“Listen, you got to be careful,” Correia adds, mentioning that Gaines is involved with an activist group that includes lawyer Shannah Kurland.

See also: New Jersey teachers made homophobic comments about a colleague during a Zoom class

“So what do you call this person if he wins?” the staffer asks. “Councilperson?”

“An it,” answers Correia. “It.”

After the tape became public, Gaines, who works for the Providence Youth Student Movement and sat on the City Council’s working group to create the Providence Community-Police Relations Act in 2017, said she was “hurt and upset and sad,” adding that the comments about her breasts were “disgusting.”

“To have a city councilman mocking or making light of my pronouns or what being transgender means, when there are people in his ward who he represents who he’s supposed to be fighting for who are like me, who are trans women, who are nonbinary…that’s upsetting,” she said at the time.

“You don’t refer to people as ‘it,'” she added, noting that Correia and the council staffers continually misgender her throughout the recording — despite the Journal referring to her using female pronouns.

See also: West Virginia Republican who resigned over anti-gay comments has been re-elected

Shortly afterward, Correia, along with his attorney Artin Coloian, sat for an interview with WPRI and listened to the four excerpts from the recorded tapes. He said he didn’t believe he offended anyone, and expressed concerns that his civil rights had been violated because he had been recorded covertly without his permission.

But because Rhode Island has a one-party consent law — in which a person who is party to a conversation can surreptitiously record the conversation without having to seek others’ permission beforehand — people familiar with the recordings told WPRI they were obtained legally. 

Patricia Socarras, a spokeswoman for the city, said that no one violated any city policies by making the recording. Providence Police and Rhode Island State Police said they’ve received no complaints or requests to investigate the recordings.

City Council President Sabina Matos (D-Ward 15) and Mayor Jorge Elorza had previously called on Correia to resign his leadership position, which he had been slated to hold onto until 2023.

In his apology announcing his resignation as president pro tempore — but not his Council seat — Correia said he had met with Gaines and apologized to her directly.

“I understand these actions have broken trust between myself and the public and I am asking for the opportunity to earn back that trust,” he wrote.

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