Metro Weekly

Republican Asks Lesbian Lawmaker if She’s a “Pedophile”

State Rep. Robert Quattrocchi made the comment in opposition to a bill calling for "equity impact" analyses of future legislation.

Rhode Island State Reps. Rebecca Kislak and Robert Quattrocchi – Photos: Rhode Island House of Representatives

A Rhode Island lawmaker asked a lesbian colleague if she was a “pedophile” during debate over an equity and inclusion bill that he opposed. 

State Rep. Robert Quattrocchi (R-Scituate) made the comments during a State House hearing on the pros and cons of a bill requiring an “equity impact” statement before lawmakers vote on any proposed legislation. 

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rebecca Kislak (D-Providence), as well as a similar measure introduced in the State Senate, seeks to address existing disparities and avoid exacerbating them by taking into account how proposed legislation may impact disadvantaged or minority communities that already bear the brunt of discrimination and structural inequities, reports The Providence Journal

Supporters of the bill want Rhode Island to follow the lead of its neighbors, Connecticut and Massachusetts, both of which began implementing racial impact statements to address racial disparities in their criminal justice systems more than a decade ago.

Republicans typically oppose diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, often on the belief that such initiatives are themselves inherently “racist” or biased, favoring certain demographic or cultural groups that have historically lacked prestige or power at the expense of members who do not belong to such groups.

Still others argue that efforts to promote “equity” give power or special advantages to marginalized groups because of their shared identity, rather than based on merit.

Quattrocchi appeared to take umbrage at the idea of having to take into account the impact of bills on people of different races, religions, sexual orientations, or other characteristics, arguing that such a requirement is overly broad and burdensome.

He also appeared to object to the idea that “impact analyses” can be subjective, based on whomever is commissioned to write them. 

“In my thinking about [bills] that I want to present … do I have to take into account, for instance … how it affects Satanists in Rhode Island?” he asked Kislak, one of only two out LGBTQ state representatives, during a hearing on her bill. “Or do I have to take into account, with ‘sexual orientation,’ how it affects pedophiles in Rhode Island — anything like that?”

Kislak took offense at the implied comparison that non-heterosexual people are in any way connected to pedophiles.

“First, I want to point out that pedophile is not a sexual orientation,” she responded, calling Quatrocchi’s remark “really offensive.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean to. Are you a pedophile? I’m sorry,” Quattrocchi replied, utilizing a trope commonly used online by social conservatives to insult LGBTQ people.

When LGBTQ people are compared to pedophiles or accused of being “groomers,” the person making the comparison will argue that only those who are endangering children would take offense at such a remark or label, creating a “no-win” situation for the targeted group.

Rep. Evan Shanley (D-Warwick), the chairman of the House Committee on State Government, interjected. “We’re getting a little off track here,” he said. “Let’s just ask questions about the bill.”

“I didn’t mean to offend anybody,” Quattrocchi said.

Following the hearing, Kislak said Quattrocchi’s comments on her bill underscored the need for talking about equity and what that entails or involves. But a few days later, she criticized Quattrocchi’s comparison.

“Wrongly and dangerously conflating sexual orientation with pedophilia is repeating ages-old prejudice,” she said in a statement.

GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, an LGBTQ legal group, condemned the comments.

Its executive director, Janson Wu, compared it to similar rhetoric being used to attack the LGBTQ community.

“It’s important to understand these offensive comments in a larger context of increasing attacks against LGBTQ people … much of it based on dangerous fear tactics around LGBTQ people as ‘groomers,'” Wu said in a statement. “These dangerous stereotypes are not only harmful — and dangerous — but they are intended to distract the public away from really critical issues facing our country: the health of our democracy, the health of our climate, the health of our economy.”

Other LGBTQ advocates and allies also condemned the comments, and implicitly criticized Shanley for failing to control the parameters of the debate on the bill.

“The resurrection of such dangerous rhetoric based in bias and disinformation is part of what is fueling the flames of increased harassment and violence and a sweeping campaign of legislative attacks targeting LGBTQ+ people — primarily young people — across the country,” a coalition of left-leaning groups said in a statement.

“There is no place for such ugly ignorance in Rhode Island. Committee Chairs have a responsibility to ensure that legislative debate does not devolve into hateful rhetoric.”

Kislak’s bill has been held for further study. It is unclear whether it will receive a vote before the part-time legislature concludes its yearly session in June.

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