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Why we need a
federal hate-crimes law--and why we can get it

Why we need a
federal hate-crimes law--and why we can get it

Judy_renna_0

This year marks our best chance yet to get a federal hate-crimes law passed and signed into law. It would give the government the power to prosecute anti-LGBT crimes and law enforcement the resources to investigate them properly. So let's make sure it happens.

Last month 72-year-old Detroit resident Andrew Anthos was severely beaten with a metal pipe after being asked by a man if he was gay. He would later slip into a coma and ultimately die from the attack. His story comes shortly after the death of Nakia Ladelle Baker, a transgender woman who was found beaten to death in early January in a Nashville parking lot. In New York City a few months before these two murders, Michael Sandy was also killed in an antigay assault where he was beaten, chased into traffic, hit by a car, and then dragged off the road and attacked a second time by his assailants. As gruesome and tragic as these stories are, they are but three heart-wrenching examples of the hundreds of anti-LGBT hate crimes that occur all over our country every year. Fear of violence remains a horrible reality for millions of GLBT Americans--even in places that many consider "tolerant" or "progressive." Every act of violence is tragic and harmful in its consequences, but not all crime is based on hate. A bias-motivated crime affects not only the victim and his or her family but an entire community or category of people and their families. The current federal hate-crimes law, enacted nearly 40 years ago, covers only bias attacks based on race, ethnicity, national origin, and religion. In the case of a hate crime based on sexual orientation or gender identity, our government's hands are tied: It doesn't have the authority to go after perpetrators of anti-LGBT violent crime. It's time to update the law to protect everyone. The 1968 law was an appropriate response, at the time, to the terrible acts of violence against African- Americans, but any and all hate crimes deserve a just and full response. Members of the new congressional leadership understand this, and that is why they support the introduction this month of a measure to expand the federal hate-crimes law to cover sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disability; they have assured us that a debate and a vote on the bill will happen soon thereafter. We know that some people in the community are skeptical about fighting for a hate-crimes law. We're sympathetic and understand that after so many years of pushing for this law, they want to move on to other issues like marriage and repealing the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Gaining civil rights, however, is a step-by-step process. It's no surprise to anyone that this Congress doesn't fully support every issue important to the LGBT community, but a majority of its members overwhelmingly believes that the federal hate-crimes statute should be comprehensive and inclusive--and that is progress. So, from a tactical standpoint, a hate-crimes law is the logical first issue for our community to pursue in this new, friendlier Congress. You may ask, isn't the bill merely symbolic? It won't stop future attacks or bring back those we've lost. Well, it is true that there is some symbolic value to the law. We honor all past victims by creating a federal law to combat hate crimes. But make no mistake about it: this law offers a real solution to combating anti-LGBT violence. It does so by accomplishing two very important goals. First, the federal government gains the authority to prosecute anti-LGBT hate crimes. No matter how awful the crime, nor how compelling the evidence, the federal government simply cannot act without this law. Second, this legislation will put crucial federal resources at the disposal of state and local agencies and equip local law enforcement officers with the tools they need to seek justice. There have been numerous hate-crimes cases where local jurisdictions simply lacked the full resources to prosecute the guilty. As an example, when Matthew (Judy's son) was murdered in Laramie, Wyo., in 1998, the town had to scramble financially to handle the investigation, prosecution, and security required. The case ended up costing this small locality of roughly 28,000 people about $150,000, and the county sheriff's department was ultimately forced to furlough five deputies to save money. The police department also incurred about $25,000 in overtime costs. Federal assistance would have been a huge help. Some pundits and media outlets have speculated that passing a hate-crimes law is a done deal. They cite the Democratic congressional takeover and the broad public support for the measure. But we will fail if we adopt this conventional wisdom. The right wing is already launching its own full-scale effort to defeat the bill--and with few credible arguments against the law, those on the right have resorted to flat out lying. They actually argue that the law will criminalize thought and be used to persecute antigay churches. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the 39 years that the current hate-crimes law has been on the books, there has never been a single "thought crime" charge brought against anyone. And despite the far right's complaints, there is something profoundly telling about the fact that mainstream religious leaders from nearly all 50 states will be converging on Capitol Hill in April to take the lead in lobbying for this bill. This year represents the best opportunity we have ever had to address anti-LGBT violence. A strong, bipartisan group of senators and representatives is going to fight hard for us, but we must do our part too. We must mobilize and lobby all of our senators and representatives. Please call, write, or schedule a visit with your elected officials as soon as possible. We must sway undecided politicians, rally our allies, and combat the right wing's misinformation campaign. If we work hard enough, we can get this bill to President Bush by the end of this year. And then we will work with our allies on both sides of the aisle to ensure that President Bush's legacy includes a strong stand against anti-LGBT violence. He may have gained notoriety for supporting the discriminatory Federal Marriage Amendment, but whether he would use only the second veto of his presidency on this bill remains to be seen. Let's give him the opportunity to do the right thing.

Advocate Magazine - KehlaniAdvocate Magazine - Gus Kenworthy

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