Friday, May 4, 2007

House Passes Hate Crimes Bill

The U.S. House of Representatives yesterday passed a bill that would allow federal, state and local law enforcement to better prosecute hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act languished for nearly a decade in the formerly Republican controlled Congress before lawmakers passed it with a vote of 237 to 180. The Human Rights Campaign and other advocacy organizations quickly praised passage of the historic bill.

"This is a historic day that moves all Americans closer to safety from the scourge of hate violence," HRC President Joe Solmonese said in a statement. "Today, legislators sided with the 73 percent of the American people who support the expansion of hate crimes laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity."

Legislation is a small part of a much larger solution needed to reduce the number of anti-LGBT hate and bias crimes in this country. Anti-LGBT organizations continue to frame LLEHCPA as an attempt by a radical agenda to stifle anti-LGBT sentiments. This argument is ridiculous but the Bush administration, which appears receptive to these positions, announced the President plans to veto the bill.

"The administration favors strong criminal penalties for violent crime, including crime based on personal characteristics such as race, color, religion or national origin," the White House said in a statement. "There has been no persuasive demonstration of any need to federalize such a potentially large range of violent crime enforcement, and doing so is inconsistent with the proper allocation of criminal enforcement responsibilities between the different levels of the government."

Inconstant with the proper allocation of criminal enforcement responsibilities between the different levels of the government? Only 22 states have in place anti-hate crime statutes that include sexual orientation while less than a dozen of these states include gender identity or expression. The federal government has a responsibility to protect all of its citizens and the Bush administration's position fails to meet this responsibility. The murders of Matthew Shepard, Sakia Gunn, Brandon Teena and countless others are stark reminders of the tragedy these crimes continue to inflict in this country. Politicians, activists and average citizens alike all have a responsibility [and a duty] to work together to reduce the numbers of anti-LGBT violence. LLEHCPA remains a symbolic piece of this solution. But the Bush administration and other LLEHCPA opponents should attempt to explain their opposition to the friends and family members anti-LGBT hate crimes impact most directly before they further their gross misjudgments based on homophobia and transphobia.

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