Rhode Island voters are accusing candidates in Providence and Woonsocket of bashing their opponents for being LGBTQ while out on the doors.
A common strategy for local campaigns is canvassing neighborhoods, knocking on doors, and talking to voters. This election cycle, Options Magazine found constituents accusing Glenn Dusablon, running in the Democratic primary for House District 49, and Providence City Councilor Jo-Ann Ryan, running for reelection in the Democratic primary for Council Ward 5, of bringing up their opponents' Queerness as a reason to vote against them while out on the stump.
On August 28, a Providence resident in Ward 5 accused Councilor Jo-Ann Ryan on social media of deriding Jackie Goldman, her nonbinary opponent, posting in Spanish that he had a recent experience where Ryan knocked on his door and after she noticed a Goldman sign in his yard, he alleged that Ryan started to speak “negatively and disdainfully of the candidate running against her” and the constituent accused Ryan of stating “that the person running against her was a homosexual and that that person only moved into the neighborhood to cause her harm.” The constituent added that Ryan told him that if he removed the yard sign “we could be friends.” Goldman posted an English translation of the statement.
Options spoke with Goldman, who explained that they asked the constituent if Ryan had implied to not support an out candidate, and the constituent confirmed that Ryan blatantly said this. The constituent also mentioned to Goldman, and in his Facebook post, how upset he was by the alleged encounter because he has a son who is gay. Options asked Goldman if homophobic attacks against them by their opponent or voters had been an occurring experience during their campaign, which Goldman said it hasn’t. They also mentioned that only a small handful of people have stated that they don’t support Queer and Trans people and would not vote for Goldman because of that.
Ryan released a statement to Options where she denied the encounter entirely claiming “unequivocally that the alleged interaction did not happen.” Ryan went on to allege that “my opponent and their supporters are resorting to smear tactics to tarnish my reputation.” Ryan also stated that “choosing to go the route of tearing people down with blatant lies is the worst type of politics.”
Options did find the constituent's social media has posts supporting Goldman, but Options found no evidence he is a part of their campaign.
Similar complaints surfaced on September 1. This time a constituent in North Smithfield accused Alex Kithes’s opponent, Glenn Dusablon, of canvassing the voter’s home and opened with, “Do you know my opponent is married to a man?” Dusablon has also been accused by another constituent of negative campaigning on the doors, but not specifically bringing up Kithes’s sexual orientation or his boyfriend. This was brought to the attention of Kithes, who called it out on Twitter, stating he was “appalled” by Dusablon’s actions.
Kithes told Options “I expect that kind of thing because when I was on the city council, there was lots of stuff (sic) said that was of that nature. There was one instance where another council member brought up a hypothetical during a council meeting where they basically brought up my boyfriend at the time in a very inappropriate way.”
Many local constituents and politicians have rallied against these attacks and in support of Goldman and Kithes, including Senator Tiara Mack, who dealt with a national smear campaign against her this summer and often faces racist and homophobic attacks. Mack told Options how these current allegations are a reminder that “though people say the people in Providence are Queer-friendly, our politicians have never been Queer-friendly, and they do not pretend to be Queer-friendly, but we still have people who do not hold them to a higher standard of being Queer-friendly.”
The Rhode Island primary elections are Tuesday, September 13.