During debate over bill, RI GOP lawmaker asks Democrat — 'Are you a pedophile?'

PROVIDENCE — A State House hearing on the pros and cons of requiring an "equity impact" statement before lawmakers vote on any piece of legislation took an unexpected turn Friday when Rep. Robert Quattrocchi asked the sponsor if that meant he had to take into account the impact on "Satanists" and "pedophiles."

What happened in the hearing?

Here's how it went:

Talking about the proposed requirement in H 5763 that lawmakers take into account the impact of their bills on people of different races, religions, sexual orientations and the like, Quattrocchi said: "It seems very, very broad."

"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?" Quattrocchi asked. "Or do I have to take into account, with 'sexual orientation,' how it affects pedophiles in Rhode Island – anything like that?"

Robert J. Quattrocchi (R) Cranston, Scituate
Robert J. Quattrocchi (R) Cranston, Scituate

"First I want to point out that pedophile is not a sexual orientation," the sponsor, Rep. Rebecca Kislak, responded. And "that was really offensive."

"Oh, I didn't mean to. Are you a pedophile? I'm sorry," Quattrocchi, a Scituate Republican, said to Kislak, a Providence Democrat who describes herself as a lesbian.

At that point, Rep. Evan Shanley, chairman of the House Committee on State Government, jumped in, saying, "We're getting a little off track here ... Let's just ask questions about the bill."

"I didn't mean to offend anybody," Quattrocchi said.

This was Kislak's initial response on Friday, the day of the hearing: "I think this is an example of why we need to be talking about equity, because we all need to be having these conversations about what is equity and what isn't equity ... This is a part of our work to be the 'People's House' and to support communities and to build together a state that is getting better and better all the time."

On Monday, however, Kislak, who describes herself as "one of two openly LGBTQ reps" in the House, said, "Wrongly and dangerously conflating sexual orientation with pedophilia is repeating ages-old prejudice."

Added Janson Wu, the executive director of GLAD – which stands for GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders: "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'."

"These dangerous stereotypes are not only harmful – and danergous – 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," Wu said.

By Tuesday, the controversy had drawn this joint statement of condemnation from an array of groups - from Coyote RI, Youth Pride, Pride in Aging RI, Planned Parenthood Votes! RI, The The Womxn Project, the Thundermist Health Center and other advocacy groups:

"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. T

"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."

More:Should RI legislation be looked at through an 'equity lens'? These bills would make it law.

More debate about the bill

On one point — and one point only — Kislak and Quattrocchi agreed: The "impact analyses" will, in all likelihood, reflect the personal opinions of whoever is commissioned to write them.

"If we're not thinking about it, it might [not] occur to us if we don't say it outright that lead pipes affect folks particularly in Providence, particularly in Black and Latino neighborhoods, and also affect renters ... [who] tend to be more people of color disproportionate to the overall population," said Kislak, citing lead pipe removal as an issue this year.

"Maybe ... a landlord simply can't afford to do that," Quattrocchi said.

"We can talk about that," Kislak said But "I think it's really important for us to say our housing policies have been discriminatory and we have created situations where there is some segregation in our communities and we can look at maps and we can see it and we can say it."

More:Group calls for addressing racial disparities in RI's criminal justice system. How they would do it.

Rep. Rebecca Kislak
Rep. Rebecca Kislak

"If we're not saying it, we're not unwinding it intentionally," Kislak said.

The bill was held for further study, as most bills are at this point in the six-month legislative session.

The focus of a news conference last week by advocates of the legislation, the bill starts with this statement: "Persistent, widespread and unacceptable disparities exist in Rhode Island for individuals and families as a result of structural inequities and past discrimination."

Kislak's bill – and a similar bill in the Senate – suggests Rhode Island take a cue from Connecticut and Massachusetts, which "began implementing racial impact statements to address racial disparities in their criminal justice systems" more than a decade ago, and then go the next step by looking at the "disproportionate impact on historically disadvantaged populations prior to enacting [any] new legislation."

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: RI Rep. Quattrocchi asks Rep. Kislak if she is a 'pedophile' in debate