RI Senate Advances Bills Protecting LGBTQ Rights

RI General Assembly Press Release, June 8, 2021: The RI Senate passed several bills aimed at preventing discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. The bills strengthen protections in housing discrimination law, expand civil action protections against discrimination, and amend the hate crimes law to include gender identity and expression.

The first bill (2021-S 0563), sponsored by Sen. Meghan E. Kallman (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, North Providence), updates the definition of sexual orientation in regard to fair housing practices and allows all parties, including the attorney general and the Rhode Island Commission Against Discrimination, to send cases from the commission to Superior Court. It also eliminates an exemption that effectively allows LGBTQ discrimination in owner-occupied buildings of three units or less, and it prohibits courts from entering orders, stipulations or settlements unless all parties attest that a waiver of attorneys’ fees was not compelled as a condition.

“Amid the critical housing shortage Rhode Island is facing, housing discrimination against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender expression causes significant, lasting harm,” said Senator Kallman. “Updating the housing discrimination law, eliminating exemptions that actually allow discrimination in some cases, and expanding legal options reflects the gravity of this matter, and provides stronger protections and safety to the LGBTQ+ community.”

The second bill, introduced by Sen. Ana B. Quezada (D-Dist. 2, Providence) on behalf of Attorney General Peter F. Neronha, expands the protections in certain civil actions to include causes of action for persons based on ancestry, color, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression, or disability if such persons are threatened or intimidated and would provide a new civil action to prevent and penalize conduct that deprives any person of certain constitutional rights. It creates a civil investigative demand procedure initiated by the attorney general, with penalties if it appears a person has engaged in, is engaged in, or is about to engage in an unlawful act depriving others of their civil rights.

“Threatening and intimidating anyone because of who they are is wrong, period. The purpose of our anti-discrimination laws should be to actually prevent people from being subjected to discrimination in the first place, and I’m happy to partner with Attorney General Neronha on this effort to do that,” said Senator Quezada.

Rhode Island’s current hate crimes statute covers race and religion, but it doesn’t cover other protected classes, including gender identity or expression,” said Attorney General Peter F. Neronha. “The scope of the existing civil rights law in Rhode Island needs to be expanded in terms of who it covers, so that the law provides protection for everyone who needs it. The legislation passed tonight does just that, and I applaud bill sponsor Senator Quezada and the Rhode Island Senate for taking action on an important issue.

The final bill (2021-S 0803), sponsored by Sen. Stephen R. Archambault (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Providence, Johnston), amends the state hate crimes law to include gender identity and expression. It also clarifies that the law can be applied whether the offense was motivated in whole or in part by the perpetrator’s perception of the victim’s status, and allows judges to include community service or education related to the community harmed as part of sentencing.

“There is no place for hate or aggression against any group in Rhode Island. We are all safer when we recognize that everyone deserves the right to be who they are without risk. I’m particularly pleased to add the element of education and community service to the sentencing possibilities in this law, because anyone who is guilty of a hate crime obviously needs to learn about the humanity, the perspectives and the challenges faced by those they hurt,” said Senator Archambault.

The bills now go to the House of Representatives where Rep. Edith H. Ajello (D-Dist. 1, Providence) is sponsoring the housing discrimination bill (2021-H 6215), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert E. Craven (D-Dist. 32, North Kingstown) is sponsoring the civil actions bill (2021-H 5860) and Rep. Mary Ann Shallcross Smith (D-Dist. 46, Lincoln, Pawtucket) is sponsoring the hate crimes bill (2021-H 6147).