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Rhode Island Councilman Apologizes For Calling Black Trans Activist 'It' After Recordings Surface

Rhode Island Councilman Apologizes For Calling Black Trans Activist 'It' After Recordings Surface

Rhode Island Democratic councilman Michael Correia issued an apology for his behavior regarding Black trans activist Justice Gaines. This comes a week after recordings surfaced of Correia referring to Gaines as "an it."

The recordings are of Correia speaking with an unnamed staff member. The two mock Gaines—who is running for a seat on the council—for being a trans woman.

Both parties repeatedly misgender Gaines throughout the conversation although the recording begins with one of them reading an excerpt from an article aloud. The article correctly uses she/her pronouns to refer to Justice Gaines.

In the recording, Correia can be heard talking about Gaines' body—specifically noting Gaines was "still working on developing breasts and everything."

When the staff member asks if Gaines will be referred to as 'councilperson' if she is elected, Correia replies that Gaines will be referred to as "an it." He then repeats the word "it" for emphasis.

At the time of the recording, Correia was in a leadership position as the council's president pro tempore.

The recording did not go over well within the Democratic party or on social media.

Initially, Correia refused to apologize.

Correia brushed critics off, stating he did not feel he had anyone to apologize to since his remarks had not offended anyone. He then expressed concern his rights had been violated by the recording, which he incorrectly referred to as "illegal."

It is not.

His attorney's official stance was Correia was the victim in this situation. Justice Gaines, however, had a different take on whether or not Correia's remarks had offended anyone.

Gaines told a local news outlet:

"I was hurt and upset and sad. To have a city councilman mocking or making light of my pronouns or what being transgender means, when there are people in his ward who he represents who he's supposed to be fighting for who are like me, who are trans women, who are nonbinary … that's upsetting."
"You don't refer to people as 'it.' In that clip they read the article that uses 'she' pronouns and then there's a continual use of 'he.' "
"For a city councilor to worry about whether I have breasts, it's disgusting when instead he should be focused on making the city a better place for his residents of Ward 6 and the rest of the residents in the city; including transgender residents."

After an investigation and public outcry, Correia changed his tune.

He resigned from his leadership role on the council and issued an apology via Facebook.

It read, in part:

"As someone who has spent the greater part of my adult life serving my community and city, I regret that my words may have hurt anyone in the LGBTQIA community, my friends, family colleagues and constituents in that community."
"I know that LGBTQIA people struggle, face discrimination and abuse and to think that I may have somehow contributed to that sentiment is unacceptable and for that I truly apologize."
"I would like to personally apologize to Justice Gaines for any hurt that I may have inflicted on her. My words were flippant and inappropriate as a leader and as a person."

Correia resigned from a leadership role, but remains on the council for another two years.

He cannot be re-elected after that because he will have reached his term limit. He is now pushing for sensitivity training not just for himself, but for the council as a whole.

Gaines accepted his apology, though not everyone is convinced it is genuine.

Those who believe this sort of speech is typically not an isolated incident would be correct in this case. A human resources spokesperson confirmed Correia had multiple complaints filed against him.

The same recordings also featured councilman Correia making disparaging remarks about another Black woman, district 3 representative councilwoman Nirva LaFortune, by insinuating she looked like the notoriously-nerdy 90's TV character Steve Urkel.

He was also caught on tape discussing the possibility of threatening or physically harming a rival.