HARTFORD – Twenty-one Republican legislators joined several conservative groups in voicing their opposition to a bill broadening the definition of “sexual orientation” to include the phrase “sexually attracted,” which they argue could be seen as supporting pedophilia.
Gov. Ned Lamont is expected to sign the bill into law later this month, becoming effective July 1. The measure adds age to the list of protected classes in Connecticut, allowing the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities to investigate discrimination claims in that category.
But the redefinition of sexual orientation garnered the most controversy among conservatives.
The measure, which was first introduced by the CHRO and passed through the Democrat-controlled House and Senate this week, states that the term “sexual orientation” will be broadened to mean “a person’s identity in relation to the gender or genders to which they are romantically, emotionally, or sexually attracted, including any identity that a person may have previously expressed or is perceived by another person to hold.” The new language would also prohibit discrimination against someone that’s perceived to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community, even if they are not.
Republican opponents are taking issue with the phrase “sexually attracted,” which they say could lead people to believe pedophilia is supported.
“The word ‘gender’ has changed pretty dramatically over the last couple of years,” State Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, said. “Changing the definition, well there are a lot of people who believe that paragraph can be interpreted to cover pedophiles. It isn’t written in clear languages that everybody understands. … I think a clever attorney could make a reasonable argument that this statute will now protect a pedophile who wasn’t hired as an elementary school teacher. They could make the argument that they shouldn’t have been passed over for that job because they are a pedophile.”
The Family Institute of Connecticut has also been vociferous in its opposition to the language change.
No representatives from the conservative-leaning institute were available for comment Friday, but its website states that “to carve out the broad ‘attraction’ provisions [creates] an exemption for paraphilias or at least attraction to minors [pedophilia].”
Democrats, however, called the pedophilia claim hogwash.
“It’s been roundly debunked by the Associated Press and others. It’s beyond a red herring – it’s a QAnon conspiracy. The Family Institute is perpetuating a QAnon conspiracy,” State Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, chair of the Judiciary Committee, said.
Stafstrom and others maintain far right-wing online sites are spreading falsehoods about the statute and similar ones in other states. Stafstrom, also a partner with the law firm Pullman & Comley, said common sense should dictate that the statute has nothing to do with pedophilia.
“Sexual orientation as a preference implies that someone chooses their sexual orientation, which we know is not based in reality,” he said. “One doesn’t choose their sexual orientation and that wording of sexual orientation was, quite frankly, offensive to many members of the LGBTQ+ community and it had to be updated accordingly.”
Stafstrom told CT Examiner the wording was carefully crafted and should withstand any legal challenges from those who oppose it.
“There are no [legal] grounds [to challenge the statute],” he said, adding that the change was needed to meet the needs of today’s society.
“It’s [statute] more forward looking in the sense it reflects the reality of sexual orientation,” Stafstrom said.
There is a minimum $1,000 fine – unless reduced by a court – for violating the civil statute, primarily aimed at those in the workplace. The new definition specifically applies to anti-discrimination laws subject to enforcement by the CHRO, as well as laws prohibiting nondiscrimination in awarding agency, municipal public works and quasi-public agency contracts.
John Pica-Sneeden, executive director of the state’s Gay & Lesbian Chamber, said his 170-member organization didn’t take a position on the statute. But he said Connecticut leads the way among states friendly to LGBTQ+ causes.
“We all know what’s going on in other states and around the country with laws changing against LGBTQ+ people or that take rights away from the LGBTQ+ community, especially transgender people,” Pica-Sneeden told CT Examiner on Friday. “Thank God we live in Connecticut and thank God we have a governor that has common sense, that is a decent human being, and that has compassion for people and not just his own kind of people. He has basically said ‘We support you’. He’s protected LGBTQ+ people.”
Chief Deputy Majority Leader Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said Friday that society has “come to understand the issues of gender better. We’ve come to understand the issues of sexuality better. We’ve also seen the ways in which discrimination takes place. It’s often about a perception about you. You [men] don’t have to be attracted to a man for people to perceive you as attracted to a man.”
Winfield said the new statute makes it clear that discriminating or creating a hostile environment for someone you perceive as gay will be discriminatory under the measure.
“It [statute] is going from sexual orientation – somebody who is openly gay – to the point where people perceive you are gay, whether you are or not,” he said. “You can still be treated in a way that is discriminatory based on perception. I think many of us have had the experience where you see somebody – they present in a certain way, a more feminine way – and you think ‘Oh, he’s gay.’ Some people will treat them differently, and that should not be allowed.”