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RI POLITICS

Rhode Island Queer PAC blasts local version of ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill

The group has also criticized a second bill, which would ban transgender students from playing girls’ sports. “The targeting of queer youth will not be tolerated,” the group said.

Rhode Island State House.Edward Fitzpatrick

PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island Queer Political Action Committee held a launch event on Thursday while criticizing what it calls “a blatant attempt to bring Florida’s regressive ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill to Rhode Island.”

Representative Patricia L. Morgan, a West Warwick Republican who complained on social media about losing a “Black friend” to critical race theory, introduced a House bill that would prohibit teaching about “sexual preference” or “gender dysphoria.” The bill would also bar terms such as “racial fragility” and curriculum based on The 1619 Project, a collection of writings that re-examines the legacy of slavery on American society.

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The newly formed PAC also criticized a Senate bill, introduced by Senator Elaine J. Morgan, a Hopkinton Republican, that would “categorize women by their biological identity at birth rather than their gender identity for purposes of organized sports.”

“The targeting of queer youth will not be tolerated,” the RI Queer PAC said in a statement. While the sponsors say the bills are meant to protect children, “we know it is only to appease their own discomfort,” the group said. “We stand with our trans and non-binary youth and denounce these racist-homophobic bills.”

Ken Barber, executive director and president of the RI Queer PAC, said such bills are unlikely to become law in Rhode Island. Representative Morgan’s bill has no cosponsors, he pointed out, and Senator Morgan’s bill has one cosponsor: Senator Frank Lombardo III, a Johnston Democrat.

But the language of the legislation “is damaging to people mentally because it brings up old trauma, especially for those of us who grew up in a time without the comfort of coming out to our peers or confiding in our teachers,” Barber said. “They are trying to force kids to stay in the closet.”

The legislation underscores the need for representation in state and local government, Barber said. His PAC endorsed eight candidates during an online event Thursday night: Senators Sam Bell and Tiara Mack, Senate candidates Lenny Cioe and Jenna Magnuski, House candidates Alexander Kithes, Damian Lima, and Zakary Pereira, and Providence City Council candidate Jackie Goldman.

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The House bill would amend the law on education curricula, placing limits on what can be taught on matters of race and sex education. For example, the bill says:

  • “Racial slurs or terms that describe race, ethnicity, gender, or religion in a pejorative context shall not be presented or used in schools. Examples of prohibited terms include ‘supremacy,’ ‘racial guilt,’ ‘racial fragility,’ and other racial slurs or terms used to cast negative opinions on individuals based upon race, ethnicity, gender, or religion.”
  • “No individual is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex.”
  • “Meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are not racist but fundamental to the right to pursue happiness and be rewarded for industry.”
  • “Schools shall not use The 1619 Project curriculum or any other curricula that pursues a predominantly ideological and/or activist outcome.”
  • “An individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, does not bear responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.”
  • “The sexualization of children shall not be permitted in educational or extracurricular activities. Sex education shall not explore sexual preference, gender dysphoria, or sexual lifestyles.”
  • “Children shall be addressed using their common names and the pronouns associated with their biological gender unless parental or guardian permission to do otherwise is obtained.”

School personnel who violate the proposed law would be disciplined at the school level for first offenses. Second offenses would be referred to the superintendent or school committee, and third offenses would be reported to the US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.

In an interview, Representative Morgan said she introduced the bill because she believes students are having their civil rights violated in the classroom.

“Their classroom material is being racialized and sexualized,” she said. “They are being subjected to racial slurs that are pejorative based on race and gender.”

While her bill bans terms such as “supremacy” and “racial fragility” that are usually associated with white people, Morgan said the bill aims to prohibit all slurs, including those aimed at people of color. She said she does not use such slurs, and so did not want to put them in the text of the legislation.

“If the people in the General Assembly really care about civil rights for all students, if they are care about the best interests of students in the state, they will pass this bill,” she said. “What education should be about is preparing children for adult life and maximizing their potential.”

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Morgan said that in response to the legislation, she has received “vulgar and threatening” voice mails and texts from students who she said attend Classical High School in Providence. She said she reported the messages to the State Police.

Meanwhile, Senator Morgan has proposed the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” which categorizes women by their biological identity at birth rather than their gender identity for purpose of organized sports.

“This has nothing to do with gender identity or lifestyle,” Morgan said in a statement Thursday. “It’s a question of fundamental fairness. There is simply a biological advantage males have over females.”

The bill cites “inherent differences between men and women,” including higher levels of testosterone in men and, in general, “denser, stronger bones, tendons, and ligaments” in men.

“Individuals who are born biological men should not be competing in women’s sports against biological women,” Morgan said.

She cited the case of Lia Thomas, a University of Pennsylvania swimmer just became the first transgender woman to win an NCAA swimming championship. “Her teammates raised the question of fairness and said she was taking ‘competitive opportunities’ away from them,” Morgan said. “And I agree.”

Senator Tiara Mack, a Providence Democrat who is Black and queer, said she opposes the legislation. As a rugby player, she said, “I have no problem competing in a sport against trans athletes, and my older brother is a trans athlete. I don’t see any merit to the bill.”

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The bills introduced by Senator Morgan and Representative Morgan are unlikely to become law and are wasting time and energy “when we have real issues to actually tackle and communities need uplifting,” Mack said. She said she’d like to see the lawmakers shift their energy to supporting the “Sexual Assault Survivors Bill of Rights,” which Mack has introduced in the Senate.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.