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Rhode Island’s LGBTQI+ community and allies rally to repudiate Bishop Tobin’s hateful comments



Hundreds of people crowded Cathedral Square in Providence late Sunday afternoon to renounce the words of Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin, who tweeted on Saturday morning that “…Catholics should not support or attend LGBTQ ‘Pride Month’ events held in June. They promote a culture and encourage activities that are contrary to Catholic faith and morals.” Tobin ended his tweet with the warning that Pride events “are especially harmful for children.”

Reverend Donnie Anderson

Reverend Donnie Anderson, of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches was having none of that. “I love seeing the children here and Mayor [Elorza], thank you for bringing your child,” said Anderson to the crowd. “You know, the [idea] that children should be afraid of this community is just something I don’t get all all. Who else knows how to better love than this community?”

The event was organized by Rhode Island Pride, and emceed by Rhode Island Pride President Joe Lazzerini.

“This is such a beautiful thing that everybody showed up on such short notice,” marveled Lazzerini. “Less than 24 hours ago we read that tweet and now you are all standing here today in downtown Providence, in Cathedral Square, so that we can stand up against that tweet that he put out yesterday.

Joe Lazzerini

“Most Catholics believe in Jesus‘s message of loving thy neighbor not judging thy neighbor, of treating those as you want to be treated,” continued Lazzerini. “Most Catholics in Providence do not support Bishop Tobin’s bigotry and hatred and we all know that.

“Yesterday I joined a number of people on social media in calling for Bishop Tobin’s resignation for his words and I stand by that again today because there’s no place for hate and bigotry in Rhode Island or anywhere in the United States of America. Catholics in Rhode Island deserve a bishop who is gonna stand for the LGBTQI+ community and welcome us through those doors right behind us.

“I just want to be clear exactly how harmful Bishop Tobin’s negative rhetoric is,” said Lazzerini. “Imagine if you’re a lonely teenager or younger kid reading that tweet yesterday on social media – and let’s be clear it was everywhere and not just in Rhode Island but across the country- on the inside you know you’re different but you’re slightly afraid to find others like you.

“We need to read positive, welcoming, affirming messages from people who hold leadership positions. If you have a voice you must use it for good. If you use it for hate and bigotry you’re only going to hurt people who you are targeting and that’s not okay. I’ve heard countless stories of young people who have read things that people say about our community and it hurts. It makes young people think of taking their own lives and we see that on a daily basis across this country. We need to send a message of love and you know what I see here today?

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“I see love.”

“I think Joe captured the message as beautifully as anybody could,” said Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, holding his infant child in his arms. “What brings us together is love. We’re living in a moment right now where there are so many people there trying to seed division in our community. What we saw from Bishop Tobin is a symptom of something much greater and much deeper much more sinister that we have to continue to root out from our community and believe it: It is spreading.

Mayor Jorge Elorza

“So what’s the solution? The solution is this right here – what we’re seeing in front of us right now – all of us coming together in unity, looking out for one another and saying that love will conquer all animosity, all hatred and all division they will try to come between us in this City.”

“As someone that was raised in the Catholic Church, I always remember that the message of the Catholic Church is a message of love,” said Providence City Council President Sabina Matos. “It makes it so hard to continue to be a member of the Catholic Church every time you hear a hateful message coming from some of the leaders of the Catholic Church.”

“It’s comments like that tweet that kept me in the closet for 69 years!” said Donnie Anderson. “I don’t want to see any of the young people who are here today or any of our young people in Rhode Island who know that there’s something special about them, to hide that specialness because they’re afraid or because they think they have to make a false choice. You do not have to choose between being your authentic self or faith. If you want to be a person of faith you can be a person of faith and you can be yourself! That is a false choice.”

“Have you noticed people keep trying to build walls and there’s this real fetish about walls right now?,” said Reverend Doctor Gwendolyn Howard. “Some people are trying to build them with bricks or what is it? Slats? I forget. Some people are trying to build them with words or belief. Why do they build these walls? Well, it’s fear of the other, it is fear of losing power, it’s fear of learning something, it’s fear of change, it’s fear of growing.”

“Like you, I wasn’t expecting to celebrate, formally, Pride until the 15th, when we have our festival but thanks to Bishop Tobin we’ve been given an opportunity to celebrate early,” said Rabbi Gavi Ruit. “In a way, I’m grateful to him, as his ignorant and cruel comments have helped remind us why our pride events are so very necessary…”

Then there was music and dancing…

Tobin did not issue an apology, but said in a statement, ahead of the rally, that he regrets that his “comments yesterday about Pride Month have turned out to be so controversial.” He also noted the support he has received for his comments from fellow bigots.

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.