Updates, news, action alerts and events from Marriage Equality Rhode Island.

Hate crimes reporting bill passes the Senate committee

Tonight the Senate Judiciary Committee passed bill S2488, the hate crimes reporting bill. The House version of the bill has already passed the House and so now it’s up to the full Senate to pass the bill. Tonight, 9 people gave testimony in support of the hate crimes reporting bill, including members of the community as well as Jaye from YPI, Janson from GLAD, and Steve from ACLU. We submitted written testimony in favor of the bill along with 16 other people and organizations. We were happy to see the bill pass with only one Senator (Senator Shibley) opposed. Jaye has issued a statement on behalf of YPI that is linked here. Stay tuned for updates on the bill’s progress.

Hate crimes reporting bill - Hearing TOMORROW

For this legislative session, in addition to our work on marriage equality, we are also working to pass the hate crime reporting bill (S2488) because no one should live in fear of being targeted for violence - simply because of who they are - when they walk down the street or are just going about their daily activities. Youth Pride Inc. (YPI), GLAD, TGI Network, and the RI Commission on Prejudice and Bias have long been working to pass a more comprehensive hate crimes reporting bill that includes transgender people. This year, we joined their coalition.

The house version of the hate crimes reporting bill (H7111) has already passed the house. Tomorrow, Thursday, April 25, the senate version (S2488) is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Judiciary committee, at the “Rise of the Senate” in room 313. If you’d like to testify, Ocean State Action has put together some great information and tips for testifying in the general assembly. If you’d like to testify and have questions, you can contact at YPI for more information. YPI and MERI staff are meeting with people who want to testify at the State House around 3:45.

We hope to see you there!

Tobin Attacks Again: Religious Coalition Responds

Earlier today, Bishop Tobin issued another press release attacking gay and lesbian couples in loving committed relationships. Check out our response:

Statement from the RI Religious Coalition in Support of Marriage Equality regarding Bishop Tobin’s most recent anti-LGBTQ remarks

PROVIDENCE - Rev. Gene Dyszlewkski, chair of the Rhode Island Religious Coalition in Support of Marriage Equality, released the following statement today after Roman Catholic Bishop Tobin’s anti-LGBTQ remarks in a press release issued by the Diocese of Providence:

“I was extremely disheartened to hear about Bishop Tobin’s comments.

I don’t pretend to be an expert in Catholic dogma, but I’m a Christian, and proud of it. In my faith, we adhere to Jesus’ command to “love, as I have loved you.“ I think Bishop Tobin would do well to remember that. These continued attacks on our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters only further perpetuate the notion that some religious leaders are out of touch with members of their faith.

No Christian I know believes in discrimination.

No Christian I know thinks it’s OK to deny basic human rights to a minority class of citizens.

The effort to pass marriage equality in Rhode Island is driven by a belief that all of our families deserve equal rights, recognition and protection under the law. At the end of the day, this issue is all about love, family, respect and equal rights for all God’s children. I hope the Bishop thinks of that before he pens another divisive and uninformed missive.”

Rev. Dyszlewski is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. He leads a coalition of 140 religious leaders, representing more than a dozen faith organizations, who support equal rights for gay and lesbian Rhode Islanders.

Bingo, Voter IDs and fun!

We’re excited for Gay Bingo tomorrow night!  We have a group of hard working Spring Fellows and awesome volunteers and we needed a fun night out. Better yet, it’s for a good cause! It’s only $20 per person and all proceeds go to AIDS Care Ocean State.  The theme is Easter Bonnet, as always hosted by Miss Kitty Litter.
The Secretary of State’s office will also make a stop at bingo tomorrow night from 5:30 to 7 pm, to discuss their efforts to implement Rhode Island’s new Voter ID law. You will be asked for ID this year when you go vote and we want to make sure that every eligible voter is able cast a ballot. If you don’t have a valid ID yet, stop by and get one here. Obtain a free voter ID, register to vote, or re-register if you’ve moved or changed your name since the last time you voted. For more information about the new law and what constitutes a valid ID, visit
Hope to see you all at bingo!

Voter ID Update

Rhode Island’s controversial new voter identification law goes into effect with this year’s election, and MERI has been actively working to make the process less challenging to our community, particularly transgendered individuals who could face unnecessary hinderances and potential disenfranchisement.

This afternoon, MERI appeared in front of the Rhode Island Board of Elections and presented testimony voicing concern that the new voter ID law has the potential to put at risk the voting rights for the 2,000 to 10,000 transgender Rhode Islanders. We raised similar concerns at a hearing with the Secretary of State’s office last December.

Our testimony today focused on the proposed rules and regulations in the voter ID law as they stand and discussed their potential to place these individuals in an unwelcoming or hostile environment—an environment that is incongruous with the ideals of fairness and democracy that are supposed to define the voting process.

For example, while an individual’s identification could list one gender, that individual may be in the process of transitioning or may not wholly identify with their documented gender. Furthermore, the individual’s identification could list a name not traditionally associated with their gender at the time of voting. Such identification discrepancy could prompt a poll worker to initiate an awkward or embarrassing conversation that could bring the individual unnecessary and uncomfortable attention. Transgender individuals may be discouraged from even going to the polls for fear of being outed publicly.

But the dangers of the voter ID law on transgender people reach even beyond the possibility of discomfort or disenfranchisement to include the threat or act of physical violence. As many of us know, transgender people face extraordinarily levels of both verbal and physical violence in their everyday lives. The chance of public outing at polling places makes these sites especially susceptible to anti-transgender violence, and the mere possibility of such violence could demotivate transgender citizens from voting at all.

Although everyone should be able to vote at their local polling place free from fear and intimidation, the General Counsel for the Board of Elections wanted to make sure we knew we could vote by mail.  Members of the Board of Election appreciated our testimony and want to work with us moving forward to ensure the poll workers are properly trained. We’ll keep you updated on our progress.

Also, thanks to one of our Spring Fellowship students, Simon, for all of his hard work on this issue!

House passes hate crimes reporting law to cover gender identity and expression

PROVIDENCE - Marriage Equality Rhode Island Campaign Director Ray Sullivan issued the following statement today after the House of Representatives passed legislation to include gender identity and expression as part of the hate crimes reporting law:

“On behalf of the tens of thousands of equality supporters across Rhode Island, we commend and thank Rep. Edith Ajello and those state representatives who voted in favor of including gender identity and expression in the hate crimes reporting law.

While there is much more that our state must do to stop violence and hate crimes of any nature, this is an important first step in protecting a group of citizens that for too long have been unjustly targeted and in some cases maliciously attacked for no other reason than being who they are.

It is critically important that these crimes be reported and tracked, and we look forward to working with members of the General Assembly to make sure such crimes are appropriately prosecuted and that the perpetrators are punished to the fullest extent of the law. 

We urge the Senate to quickly take up this bill and send it to Gov. Chafee for his signature.”

MERI to Reed: 103 days is not ‘very shortly’

PROVIDENCE - Marriage Equality Rhode Island Campaign Director Ray Sullivan released the following statement today following a report from RINPR saying that Sen. Jack Reed is still unsure about whether to support a legislative effort to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.

“While equality supporters certainly appreciate the ‘careful’ and ‘deliberative’ thought that Sen. Reed has devoted to the federal legislation that would repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, we would respectfully remind him that his inability to make a decision on this important civil rights issue is adversely impacting the lives of his constituents everyday.

It has been exactly 103 days since Sen. Reed said at a press conference that he would make a decision on this important bill ‘very shortly.’ Clearly, Washington politicians and Rhode Island families have very different understandings of what ‘very shortly’ means.

Sen. Reed is well-respected by leaders from both sides of the aisle, and his support now would lend significant momentum to the effort to end DOMA. Every other member of the Rhode Island Congressional delegation - Sen. Whitehouse, Rep. Langevin, and Rep. Cicilline - have signed on as co-sponsors, and we thank them for demonstrating leadership on this critical issue. It’s time Sen. Reed did the same.”

Voter ID

On Friday, on behalf of Marriage Equality Rhode Island, I submitted comments about the proposed Voter ID Rules and Regulations to the Rhode Island Secretary of State (RISOS).  Because of the unique challenges faced by our community, the Voter ID law has the potential to disenfranchise a large number of LGBTQI Rhode Islanders.  Our friends from Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless did a great job testifying about all of the problems homeless people have trying to get an ID, from not being able to obtain/provide supporting documentation due to the cost of that paperwork or from the very real logistical concerns related to life on the street. We should not forget that the LGBTQI community makes up a significant portion of those who are homeless, somewhere between 20-40% according to the Center for American Progress.
Our testimony focused on issues specific to our transgender and gender non-conforming community because we know that requiring photo ID can cause bureaucratic headaches and safety concerns for members of our community.  We are continuing to work with the RISOS to make sure we are not disenfranchised in this process.  The RISOS plans on posting the final rules by the end of today, Monday, December 12, 2011 because they have to be ready to issue IDs by the first day of business in 2012 (January 3, 2012).  We’ll keep you posted on the finals rules and our next steps.  if you want to get involved! 

Calling all students!

The legislative session is quickly approaching and we’re looking for local college and high school students to join our organizing team.  We have a busy legislative agenda ahead of us and we want YOU to help us make history!  Apply using the cover page and brochure.  Please contact Dawn (401) 941-2727 with any questions.

Thank YOU & Happy Thanksgiving!

You did it! Thanks to you and thousands of other equality supporters, I’m happy to report this morning that MERI has won a $25,000 grant from the Chase Foundation. I’m also excited to tell you that the nine other organizations who were part of this year’s Equality Slate finished in the top 100, and qualified for some much-needed funding. Thank you for helping to make that happen.

As an organization, we have a lot to be thankful for this year. But most of all, we are thankful for you. Time and time again, you’ve stepped up and done what’s needed to be done to keep us moving forward, even when that hasn’t been easy. MERI is a movement that, at its’ core, is simply about love, family, respect and fundamental equality.

You are that movement, and this year, we are extremely grateful to have you in our corner. In the coming year, we’re going to take on some tough challenges, but these are fights worth fighting, and I know with your continued support, we will win.

From our family to yours, please accept our gratitude and best wishes for a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday.

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