fb-pixel Skip to main content

LGBTQ advocates praise removal of R.I. legislator from House committee

Speaker Shekarchi removed Representative Robert Quattrocchi, a Scituate Republican, from a House committee Thursday after he asked Representative Rebecca Kislak, a Providence Democrat who is a lesbian, if she is a pedophile

Representative Robert Quattrocchi, a Scituate RepublicanR.I. House of Representatives

PROVIDENCE — Advocates for the Rhode Island LGBTQ community on Friday praised House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi for removing a Republican legislator from a House committee after he asked a Democratic colleague if she is a pedophile.

“I think it was the appropriate move,” said Ryan Vigneau, chief of staff for the Rhode Island Queer PAC. “I know that committee seats are ways that representatives have more voice and more power.”

The episode underscores the importance of electing more LGBTQ legislators, advocates said.

“Our mission is to get more queer representation,” Vigneau said. “If Shekarchi had not been a gay man, the reaction might not have been as swift and as firm as it is.”


Shekarchi, a Warwick Democrat, removed Representative Robert J. Quattrocchi, a Scituate Republican, from the State Government and Elections Committee on Thursday after Quattrocchi asked Representative Rebecca Kislak, a Providence Democrat who is a lesbian, “Are you a pedophile?”

Quattrocchi posed that question to Kislak during a March 17 hearing on a bill she introduced to require “equity impact statements.” Her proposal would require that legislation spell out how it would have an impact, positive or negative, on people based on race, religion, sexual orientation, and other factors.

“Do I have to take into account 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?”

Kislak said, “Well, first, I want to point out that pedophile is not a sexual orientation. My equity right now is pointing out that that was really offensive.”

Quattrocchi said, “Oh, I didn’t mean to. Are you a pedophile? I’m sorry.”

Vigneau said it was offensive that Quattrocchi was “playing dumb” by trying to disguise an insult as a question.


“The root of the issue is that it’s age-old rhetoric used against the queer community to equate us to pedophiles or, as Quattrocchi did, to ask us if we are pedophiles,” he said. “It’s essentially trying to say, ‘You are not a person, your experiences are not valid.’ It’s undercutting a group of people’s experiences by equating them with the worst types of crimes.”

Vigneau said Shekarchi and Kislak are the only two openly LGBTQ legislators in the 75-member House. The 38-member Senate contains four LGBTQ members.

“If the House had been all straight people, that comment could have flown completely under the radar,” he said. But he said Kislak “handled it pretty beautifully.”

Janson Wu, executive director of GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, based in Boston, agreed that it’s important to have more LGBTQ representation in all parts of society, including elected office. But, he said, “What I really want to say is it’s incumbent on everybody — whether or not you identify as LGBTQ — to denounce extremism given the rising climate of attacks and threats to LGBTQ youth.”

Wu also praised Shekarchi’s decision to remove Quattrocchi from the committee.

“We are appreciative that the speaker made a strong statement in support of Rhode Island values — respect and inclusion,” he said. “Extremist ideology and misinformation about LGBTQ people is gaining a greater foothold throughout the country and in Rhode Island, and it’s something all elected leaders need to speak out against.”

Quattrocchi’s “offensive and irresponsible comments” must be viewed in the context of “a history of insidious and dangerous stereotypes used to attack LGBTQ+ people,” and a more recent rise in “bias-based rhetoric that can lead to harassment and even violence,” he said.


“That is what prompted the community’s response and I believe, given Rhode Island’s values of inclusion for all, made it important for the House to address the issue,” Wu said. “I know Rhode Island residents are proud of the state’s leadership on LGBTQ+ equality, and I think we’re all ready to move forward on the important work for our communities.”

On Thursday, House Minority Leader Michael W. Chippendale, a Foster Republican, objected to Quattrocchi’s removal from the committee. “The Speaker has acted under pressure from ‘a mob,’” Chippendale wrote. “If inadvertently causing offense to a fellow House member becomes grounds for ‘punishment’ then we expect that standard to apply evenly to all members moving forward.”

Quattrocchi spoke during Thursday’s House session without making an apology. “So much unnecessary drama, so much unnecessary pressure,” he began. “Today, I am going to confess my guilt — for calling out evil, an evil act against children. And because I did that, evil came for me through my answering machine in the most disgusting, vile — I don’t even know how to describe it — language.”

On Friday, Senator Tiara Mack, a Providence Democrat who describes herself as Black and queer, said she was called a “pedophile” and a “groomer” last year when she introduced legislation that she describes as “comprehensive, queer-inclusive sexual health education.”


“I think this is a larger tactic of folks on the right to spread more misinformation,” she said, “and unfortunately some of my colleagues have not been given the tools to combat that misinformation.”

Such comments are “harmful” and “disgusting,” Mack said, and Quattrocchi must be held accountable. “Accountability looks like being removed from situations where that can happen again,” she said.

But Mack said, “I don’t want anyone to villainize Quattrocchi because I think he is a victim of misinformation campaigns.” One of the ways he can learn from this episode, she said, is to understand the source of that misinformation and the impact of his comments.

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