Rhode Island woman ordered to stop homophobia

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A Rhode Island judge has ordered a woman to stop directing hate slurs at her gay neighbour, saying the insults amounted to “hateful conduct” and interfered with the man’s right to live in peace.

The attorney general’s newly formed civil rights advocate’s office sued Theresa Deschenes in its first case, accusing her of harassing a gay neighbour with AIDS and threatening him with violence.

The Associated Press reports that Superior Court Judge Netti Vogel on Friday ruled that Ms Deschenes, 33, had deprived Kenneth Potts of his right to live peacefully under the state’s Fair Housing Practices Act, which protects against discrimination, and issued an injunction forcing her to stop her behaviour.

Ms Deschenes’ lawyer, Christopher Millea, said his client’s comments were protected by the First Amendment and were merely part of a “kindergarten name-calling contest,” the AP reports. But the judge rejected that argument.

“She has intimidated him,” Vogel said. “She has threatened him with physical violence… all connected to his sexual orientation.”

Mr Potts, 48, accused Ms Deschenes of making anti-gay insults, threatening to kill him “if you do anything to my daughter,” playing loud music and stomping on her floor.

He said that when Ms Deschenes was arrested last month on a disorderly conduct charge, she threatened to assault him once she was released.

The Providence Journal reports that during the injunction hearing Potts, 48, testified how his relationship with her got off poorly in March as he was preparing to move into the apartment house. Soon after telling Ms Deschenes that he was gay and ill, Mr Potts said he received a phone call from Ms Deschenes after she had left her young daughter alone in the apartment upstairs.

Ms Deschenes admitted making homosexual comments to him under questioning by her lawyer, but said she was not homophobic. She said she had made the remarks out of anger, and had been mad when she was arrested and when Mr Potts had called child-welfare officials.

“I shouldn’t have said what I said,” Ms Deschenes said, according to the AP. “I’ll apologize right now. I’m sorry.”

Mr Millea told the AP that he would talk with his client about whether to appeal the judge’s decision.

The Journal reports that Attorney General Patrick Lynch, who was in the courtroom, said he was pleased with the judge’s decision and grateful that the General Assembly created a means for his office to pursue cases like this – “to fight for dignity that should be humanely automatic. Unfortunately with people like this defendant, it’s important.”

Mr Potts said: “I hope this teaches a lesson not to hate anybody for any reason.”

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