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As Hate Crimes Continue, Need for LGBT Protections Increases

rsz_shepard_obama-300x219This weekend’s widely publicized National Equality March called on activists and government officials alike to take action to end inequality.

Already at least one issue of LBGT equality appears very close to resolution – the expansion of federal hate crime legislation to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.  One accomplishment that President Obama shared at the HRC Gala Dinner on Friday evening included the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act through the House of Representatives last week, as reported by The New York Times last Thursday.  Attached to the National Defense and Authorization Act of 2009 in July, the bill is now expected to pass the Senate as well, and land on the President’s desk within the week.

The Colorado Independent quoted the bill’s cosponsoring Congresswoman Diana Degette (D-CO):

When signed by President Obama, this will be the first federal law specifically protecting LGBT Americans.  This Act will provide state and local law enforcement agencies with resources they need to investigate and prosecute hate crimes, while also protecting the exercise of free speech under our Constitution.

However, no sooner had the march concluded in Washington, D.C. than The New York Times and the New York Daily News were back reporting on the beating of a gay man in College Point, Queens as he left his neighborhood deli early Friday morning.  The man is being treated for a fractured jaw, ribs, and lacerated spleen but is now in stable condition.  Police have categorized the assault as a hate crime based on New York State legislation, which does classify crimes motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation as hate crimes.

There is currently no similar classification, at either the state or national level, for crimes motivated by a victim’s gender identity.  This gaping legal hole was most recently exposed by the verbal and physical attacks endured by Carmella Etienne, a transgender woman who shared her story of assault at last week’s Transgender Hate Crimes panel in Brooklyn.  Etienne, also attacked in her own neighborhood in Queens, had rocks and empty beer bottles hurled at her by a group of young men, who taunted her with antigay and transphobic slurs.  As The New York Times’ CityRoom blog reports:

The attackers’ use of homophobic slurs could be used to prosecute them under New York State’s hate crime law, but the taunts about her gender identity would not be covered under that statute.

Similarly, when 22-year-old Lateisha Green was shot last year in a car in Syracuse simply for being a transgender woman, her attack could only be categorized as a hate crime based on the antigay slurs from her assailant.

According to Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, which represented both Carmella Etienne and the Green family, a “hate crime charge could mean the difference between a one-day jail sentence and a minimum three-and-a-half-year sentence.”

We will continue to keep you informed about media coverage of inclusive hate crimes legislation at both national and state levels.

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