Today, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) introduced the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the Senate version of hate crimes legislation now being considered by the House. Kennedy stated that this legislation is “long overdue” and added “hate crimes are especially poisonous.”
President Obama issued a statement in support of the bill yesterday.
“This week, the House of Representatives is expected to consider H.R. 1913, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. I urge members on both sides of the aisle to act on this important civil rights issue by passing this legislation to protect all of our citizens from violent acts of intolerance – legislation that will enhance civil rights protections, while also protecting our freedom of speech and association. I also urge the Senate to work with my Administration to finalize this bill and to take swift action,”
But there are the naysayers – from members of Congress (unremarkable from the republican party) to Cable TV pundits — who are gunning against passage.
During a House Judiciary meeting, U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) asked why prostitutes weren’t included in the bill, stating that people who hate prostitutes as a class sometimes murder them for this reason. “Should there be an amendment to this to say that prostitutes are a protected class?” she said. “Why is it worse to go after someone who’s gay than going after someone who’s a prostitute?”
So why bother with hate crimes legislations, particular for LGBT folks? As some have asked, aren’t all crimes based on hate? The question deserves a response.
These are my thoughts. What makes a “hate crime” particularly egregious is that it targets an individual – solely because she or he is a member of a group that has been historically victimized and vilified by the larger majority society. Further, the characteristics that define an individual’s membership within this minority group are independent of choice. We know that gay and lesbian people don’t choose to be homosexual; it is both fixed and immutable.
Because GLBT folks have been and continue to be hated simply because of who they are, it is the responsibility of government to both provide protections and to let the wider community know that crimes against the group are a heightened offense.
Rep. Foxx’s comparison of GLBT folks to prostitutes, of course, is ridiculous and offensive (why it is so common for republicans to make such dumb-ass statements?). I didn’t choose to be gay. The choice that I made and continue to make is to life my life with some honesty and integrity – a decision that every LGBT person faces. And because I make this choice shouldn’t bring the added danger of becoming a crime victim – simply because I am a gay man.
The Washington Blade states that:
“The passage of hate crimes legislation would allow the U.S. Justice Department to assist in the prosecution of hate crimes committed against LGBT people that result in death or serious injury. The federal government could lend its assistance to local authorities or take the lead if local officials are unwilling or unable to prosecute cases. Further, the legislation would make grants available to state and local communities to train law enforcement officials, combat hate crimes committed by juveniles and investigate bias-motivated violence.”
The passage of inclusive Federal Hate Crimes Legislation won’t bring Matthew Shepard back to us, but maybe – just maybe – another young gay teen won’t have to pay with his life just for being who he is.