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This is a repost from the Equality Texas blog. (Don't worry, I wrote it and I'm going to hang around to chat about it).

Federal Hate Crimes Legislation - A Grim Victory

Today, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. It is an important, yet grim, victory for the LGBT and other targeted communities. Among other important steps, the Act marks the first time federal law has referred to "gender identity" in a positive manner and offered transgender persons some form of protection.

It has taken 13 years, untold victims, multiple deaths, and the efforts of survivors, loved ones and activists to get the Hate Crimes Act passed. No one, of course, expects the Act to actually end hate crimes.  However, the hope is that by granting the federal government the jurisdiction and resources to prosecute hate crimes people will become more aware, and educated, about hate crimes--eventually leading to an overall reduction in this, one of the most hideous forms of violence.

More below the fold....

Hate crimes are never pretty, and it is tough to talk about them. But it is important to remember them so that we have the motivation, and courage, to move forward.  For those of you too young to remember it serves to recount the barest details about the men, and the crimes, for which the Act was named. In 1998, Mr. Shepard, only 21 years old at the time, was tortured, beaten, crucified and left to die on a barbed wire fence in Wyoming. He died in a hospital five days later from head injuries. Mr. Shepard was targeted because he was gay. In 1999, Mr. Byrd, a 47 year old father, accepted a ride home from three men (one of whom he knew), but instead of being driven home was beaten and dragged to death behind a pickup truck. His body was found spread over three miles of road in East Texas. Part of the perpetrators’ defense relied upon claims they had slashed his throat before they dragged Mr. Byrd (so he suffered less), but these claims were countered by the forensic evidence. Mr. Byrd was targeted because he was a African-American.

Mr. Byrd’s death led directly to the passage, in Texas, of the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act in 2001. Thanks to the steadfast support of African-American and Hispanic state legislators, the Texas version of the Hate Crimes Act included the first-ever statewide protection for gays and lesbians. Undoubtedly, the Texas act would have passed years earlier if it had not included this protection, and it was only through the united support of all communities over several years that the Texas act was as inclusive as it was. Without this support it is likely that there would still be no Texas protection at all for gays and lesbians.

The Texas act, however, did not include protection based upon gender identity. This is a failure that some Texas legislators, notably Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) have been trying to correct ever since.

Given that Texas already has a hate crimes act, will the federal act have any effect upon Texans? There are, in fact, several benefits of a federal act, some of these are obvious, some not. Some are legal, some political.

Most significantly, of course, the federal act includes protection for people based upon gender identity. Transgender people are some of the most disempowered, vulnerable, and misunderstood people in our country. Consequently, they suffer disproportionately from hate crimes and those hate crimes are disproportionately violent and ultimately fatal. It is estimated that one person in this country is murdered every month because of their gender identity--which is extraordinarily high given the small demographic population.  (For those who have participated in the Transgender Day of Remembrance this is probably not news). So, gender identity protection is a significant hallmark of today’s federal act.

The lasting legacy of the federal Hate Crimes Act, however, is likely to be the political line that has been crossed. For the first time ever at the federal level, sexual orientation and gender identity are included in the "laundry list" enumeration of protected classes. This marks a graduation, of sorts, for the LGBT community marking our passage from the "minority among minorities" status that treated LGBT people as unworthy of protection to "accepted minority community" status.

To mix metaphors, the LGBT community has taken its first step toward full minority community status, against which (like the other established minority communities) discrimination is legally, socially, and morally unacceptable. And, much like the passage of the Texas Hate Crimes Act, the willingness of all minority and targeted communities to hang together and insist upon inclusion, and this time full LGBT inclusion, in the federal Hate Crimes Act means that we can work with anyone, and they with us, to pass legislation and advance the cause of equality.

The raw fact of a victory for the LGBT community is, in itself, politically important. No longer can a federal politician say "I support equality, but a bill with full LGBT inclusion will not pass." Wrong. It just did. No longer will LGBT inclusion be the dreaded death knell for a good human rights bill--the unchallengeable, yet unsupported, assumption behind a politician’s sympathetic "I’d like to help you, but....." LGBT protection can pass. It has passed! Henceforth, it will be difficult to create any list of enumerated classes or human rights legislation that does not fully include the LGBT community.

Beyond the federal political implications, the (now, as of today) existence of the federal Hate Crimes Act will also directly affect the prosecution of hate crimes in Texas. The federal act gives the United States Attorney general the power to prosecute violent hate crimes in instances when there is no state hate crime law, a state is not enforcing its own hate crime law, or when a state asks for help.  In other words, the federal law says "Do it, or we’ll do it for you!" As much as Texas politicians love to bemoan federal interference, the threat of that interference is likely to spur Texas prosecutors to act.

Because Texas has no hate crimes protection based on gender identity, any hate crime in Texas against a transgender person now automatically qualifies for federal prosecution. This is infinitely more protection against hate crimes than transgender people had before. It also makes it more likely that the Texas legislature will pass a bill to include gender identity protection in our own Texas Hate Crimes Act, if for no other reason than to keep federal prosecutors out of the hate crimes business in Texas.

Under the new law, the federal government can also get involved in hate crimes prosecutions if a state is not enforcing its own laws. This federal authority could motivate Texas politicians and prosecutors, as well. Texas police officers have investigated over 1,800 potential hate crimes since the Texas James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act was passed in 2001. But, Texas prosecutors have only tried fewer than a dozen cases in which they sought a conviction as a hate crime. Fear of federal interference may lead more Texas prosecutors to seek hate crimes convictions. That same reluctance to see federal interference might lead Texas politicians to ask "why aren’t more hate crimes being prosecuted as such?" This motivation could lend more political support to the proposal to conduct a Hate Crimes Study, carried by Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Fort Worth) for the last two sessions.   Such a study is intended to identify ways to make the Texas hate crimes act better, and more enforceable. At the same time, the findings of such a study might convince the feds that Texas prosecutors were, or were not, really trying to enforce their own laws.

Today, then, is a good day to take a few minutes to think about where we are, as an LGBT movement. We’ve come a long way, frequently because of the violence that has been inflicted upon our community—either as a group (ala Stonewall or Rainbow Lounge) or individually (ala Matthew Shepard, Harvey Milk, et al. ad infinitum). Today’s signing marks just such progress. It’s nice that someone will get punished for beating the hell out of you, just because you might be LGBT.

At the same time, it reminds us we have a long way to go toward full equality. You can still be fired in Texas just because you’re gay. You can be denied the opportunity to adopt because you’re a lesbian. You cannot have both your adoptive parents on your birth certificate if they’re the same sex. If your partner is in the hospital, you can be denied the right to sit at their bedside. If you’re a Texas kid, you still face challenges in school and you are far, far, more likely than straight kids to drop out of school, attempt suicide, be beaten or kicked out of the house and wind up on the streets. Just because of your sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

Yet, there is hope. Today’s victory is strong proof of that. And we have the momentum. But we have a long, long way to go. Join us in the journey. You make equality happen.

Posted by Randall Terrell, Political Director

Originally posted to DyspepTex on Wed Oct 28, 2009 at 12:05 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  We fight. (4+ / 0-)

    for all our brothers and sisters to have equal protection under the law.

    We fight till we win.

    Before you win, you have to fight. Come fight along with us at TexasKaos.

    by boadicea on Wed Oct 28, 2009 at 12:17:51 PM PDT

  •  A lot has been made of black homophobia (6+ / 0-)

    Especially since the passage of prop 8, but our experience in Texas has been quite different. If it were not for the tireless work of legislators like Rodney Ellis, Senfronia Thompson and Garnet Coleman, the James Byrd Act would not have included all that it did and would not have passed.

    I think it also shows how incredibly far behind the mainstream of America our Congress is that a conservative state like Texas can pass a hate crime act protection people on the basis of sexual orientation long before Congress could. With the signing a few minutes ago of the Matthew Shepard And James Byrd Jr Hate Crime Protection Act, Texas now has work to do on improving our James Byrd Act to include our transgendered brothers and sisters. Today was a good step forward, but we have a long way to go to equality. On the national level, we need to keep the pressure on Congress and in Texas, we need to support Rep Coleman and his allies so that in 2011 we can hand the gavel of the Texas House to Rep Thompson and improve our chances of including gender identity in Texas' James Byrd Act.

    "So it was OK to waterboard a guy over 80 times but God forbid the guy who could understand what that prick was saying has a boyfriend."--Jon Stewart

    by craigkg on Wed Oct 28, 2009 at 12:18:47 PM PDT

    •  Sure, (5+ / 0-)

      There's homophobia in the African American community. As there is in the Morman, Evangelical, Anglo, Athletic, etc. comumunity. That issue gets far overplayed.

      Thompon, Ellis, Coleman, Farrar's leadership on this issue shows that the estrangement between the African American and Hispanic communities and the LGBT community is almost a thing of fiction. And now joined now by D. Howard, Rodriguez, Strama, Anchia, Naishtat, Burnam, Bolton, Marquez, Veasey, Villarreal, inter alia (too many to mention!) we're heading for powerful advances.

      Equality! It's what's for dinner!

      by DyspepTex on Wed Oct 28, 2009 at 12:27:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Senfronia Thompson (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      boadicea, sberel, craigkg, catchaz

      made the most amazing speech a couple of sessions back.... I'm sure it is on youtube but I'm at work & we're not allowed on there. But I had run over to the gallery on my break, to watch the debate (yes I am that much of a nerd) and got to see it live.

      •  She's a gem (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        sberel, craigkg, anotherdemocrat, catchaz

        She's has a picture in her office, signed by Warren Chisum, of her whispering in his ear. He was on the House floor, at the mic, trying to introduce and pass the Anti-Marriage Amendment to the Texas Constitution. Evidently, she was whispering obscenities in his ear trying to screw him up.

        LOVE that woman!

        Equality! It's what's for dinner!

        by DyspepTex on Wed Oct 28, 2009 at 12:37:24 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  It was in 2005 (5+ / 0-)

        during the debate on Texas' Denial of Marriage Amendment:

        I have been a member of this august body for three decades, and today is one of the all-time low points. We are going in the wrong direction, in the direction of hate and fear and discrimination. Members, we all know what this is about, this is the politics of divisiveness at its worst, a wedge issue that is meant to divide.

        Members, this issue is a distraction from the real things we need to be working on. At the end of this session, this Legislature, this Leadership will not be able to deliver the people of Texas, fundamental and fair answers to the pressing issues of our day.

        Let's look at what this amendment does not do: It does not give one Texas citizen meaningful tax relief. It does not reform or fully fund our education system. It does not restore one child to CHIP, who was cut from health insurance last session. It does not put one dime into raising Texas' Third World access to health care. It does not do one thing to care for or protect one elderly person or one child in this state. In fact, it does not even do anything to protect one marriage.

        Members, this bill is about hate and fear and discrimination. I know something about hate and fear and discrimination. When I was a small girl, white folks used to talk about "protecting the institution of marriage" as well. What they meant was if people of my color tried to marry people of Mr. Chisum's color, you'd often find the people of my color hanging from a tree. That's what the white folks did back then to "protect marriage." Fifty years ago, white folks thought inter-racial marriages were a "threat to the institution of marriage."

        Members, I'm a Christian and a proud Christian. I read the good book, and do my best to live by it. I have never read the verse where it says, "gay people can't marry." I have never read the verse where it says, "though shalt discriminate against those not like me." I have never read the verse where it says, "let's base our public policy on hate and fear and discrimination." Christianity to me is love and hope and faith and forgiveness-not hate and discrimination.

        I have served in this body a lot of years-and I have seen a lot of promises broken. I should be up here demanding my 40 acres and a mule because that's another promise you broke. You used a wealthy white minister cloaked in the cloth to ease the stench of that form of discrimination.

        So, now that blacks and women can vote, and now that blacks and women have equal rights-you turn your hatred to homosexuals- and you still use your misguided reading of the Bible to justify your hatred. You want to pass this ridiculous amendment so you can go home and brag about what? Declare that you saved the people of Texas from what? Persons of the same sex cannot get married in this State now. Texas does not now recognize same-sex marriages, civil unions, religious unions, domestic partnerships, contractual arrangements or Christian blessings entered into in this State- or anywhere else on this planet Earth.

        If you want to make your hateful political statements then that is one thing- the Chisum amendment does real harm. It repeals the contracts that many single people have paid thousands of dollars to purchase to obtain medical powers of attorney, powers of attorney, hospital visitation, joint ownership and support agreements. You have lost your way- this is obscene.

        Today, you are playing to the lowest common denominator- you are putting aside the real issues of substance that we need to address so that you can instead play on the public's fears and prejudices to deceive and manipulate voters into thinking that we have done something important.

        I realize that gay rights are not the same as civil rights-but I can guarantee you we are going in the wrong direction. I can not hide my skin color. In fact, in most of the South, people as pink as Rep. Wayne Smith were still Black by law if they had a great grandparent who was African. I was unable to attend an integrated and equally funded school until I got my Master of Laws degree. There were separate and unequal facilities for nearly everything.

        I got second-hand textbooks even worse than the kind you're trying to pass off on every public school student next year. I had to ride to school on the back of the bus. I had to quench my thirst from filthy coloreds-only drinking fountains. I had to enter restaurants from the kitchen door. I was banned from entering most public accommodations, even from serving on a jury.

        I had to live with the fear that getting too uppity could get you killed --- or worse. I know what third-class citizenship feels like. In my first term, one of my colleagues walked up and down this aisle muttering about how Nigras should be back in the field picking cotton instead of picking out committees.

        So, I have to wonder about Rep. Chisum's 3/5 of a person amendment. Some of you folks hid behind your Bible then, too, to justify your cultural prejudices, your denial of liberty, and your gunpoint robbery of human dignity.

        We have worked hard at putting our prejudices against homosexuals in law. We have denied them basic job protections. We have denied them and their children freedom from bullying and harassment at school. We have tried to criminalize their very existence.

        But, we have also absolved them of all family duties and responsibilities: to care for and support their spouses and children, to count their family's assets in determining public assistance, to obtain health insurance for dependents, to make end-of-life or necessary medical decisions for their life partners---sometimes even to visit in the hospital, even to defend our own country. And then, we can stand on our two hind legs and proclaim, "See, I told you homosexual families are unstable." And nearly every one of you on this Floor has a homosexual in their extended families.

        Some of you have shunned and isolated these family members. Some of you, even some of the joint coauthors, have embraced them within your own family for the essence of Christianity is love. Yet,you are now poised to constitutionalize discrimination against a particular class of people.

        I thought we would be debating real issues: education, health care for kids, teacher's health insurance, health care for the elderly, protecting survivors of sexual assault, protecting the pensions of seniors in nursing homes. I thought we would be debating economic development, property tax relief, protecting seniors pensions and stem cell research, to save lives of Texans who are waiting for a more abundant life. Instead we are wasting this body's time with this political stunt that is nothing more than constitutionalizing discrimination. The prejudices exhibited by members of this body disgust me.

        Last week, Republicans used a political wedge issue to pull kids-sweet little vulnerable kids- out of the homes of loving parents and put them back in a state orphanage just because those parents are gay. That's disgusting. Today, we are telling homosexuals that just like people of my ilk, when I was a small child, they too are second class citizens. I have listened to all the arguments. I have listened to all of the crap.

        Mr. Chisum, is a person who I consider my good friend and revere. But, I want you to know that this  amendment are blowing smoke to fuel the hell-fire flames of bigotry. You are trying to protect your constituents from danger. This amendment is a CYB amendment for you to go home and talk about.

        "So it was OK to waterboard a guy over 80 times but God forbid the guy who could understand what that prick was saying has a boyfriend."--Jon Stewart

        by craigkg on Wed Oct 28, 2009 at 12:37:51 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Cameron Todd Willingham was a Hate Crimes Victim (1+ / 1-)
    Recommended by:
    Hidden by:

    of all of the "law & order" hypocritical assholes in Texas' criminal just us system.  May you fry in hell for eternity for what you've done, you sanctimonious sacks of shit!  You shouldn't be allowed to arrest and prosecute anyone because you're a bunch a stupid fucking assholes and inbred bigotted morons.

    •  Are you talking about our governor? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Vita Brevis

      Or are you including all people who wear a badge or are officers of the court in Texas?  I've been lectured repeatedly for using such a broad brush as you just did.

      We're not all bigoted cretins.  Not even our law enforcement personnel all drag their knuckles.  Remember who was governor when the death penalty was re-instated, then you'll know how this cultural black hole business got started.

      Among the 24,000,000,000 people living in this state, there are about 1% who are as you say.  Among those are people who run and get elected to office via the pay as you go plan run by big oil, big insurance and big real estate.  That means Texas follows the 1% rule:  One percent of the crooks rule the other 99% of the people.

      So, give us a break.  Just because Texas voted almost 60% for McCain, there are still pockets of reason around the major cities.  The bad news is that most of the voters are rural and vote 80% Republican.  You get the idea.

      "Have a beginner's mind at all times, for a beginner knows nothing and learns all while a sophisticate knows all and learns nothing." - Suzuki

      by dolfin66 on Wed Oct 28, 2009 at 02:26:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Sad to say... (0+ / 0-)

    that we are who we are.  This law is both necessary and absurd.  Why should hate be so virulent in our society that we have to have SPECIFIC laws to protect certain groups from individuals of other groups?  Assault with intent to injure or kill is the same crime, isn't it?  If the assault is predicated on the victim's gender, ethnicity, sexual preference, religion, etc., motivating someone to act illegally, then it's a hate crime.  O.K.  I'll go with that.

    But what about somebody in a school, say, who gets under somebody else's skin just because he is an ornery little butt-head.  Finally, the object of the poking has enough and lashes out.  Isn't that assault provoked by hate too?  

    I totally understand the spirit of this law.  It just makes me sick that we need it.  How long will it be before some goobers have enough cheap beer in them to go hate crime their mothers, teachers, etc.?  It'll just go on and on.  Hating to violence just seems to be in the tribal circuitry of being hard-wired that way.

    Boy, it's a good thing we're civilized.

    "Have a beginner's mind at all times, for a beginner knows nothing and learns all while a sophisticate knows all and learns nothing." - Suzuki

    by dolfin66 on Wed Oct 28, 2009 at 02:14:30 PM PDT

    •  I understand the drum (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Odysseus, Vita Brevis, dolfin66

      Without getting into the details, there are certain aspects of hate crimes that make them typically more heinous than other crimes. More important to this discussion, however, is that hate crimes are directed at ALL members of the targetted community--not just the most immediate victim.

      As someone once explained to me, there is a vast difference between someone spray painting a smiley face or a swastika upon their neighbor's front door. The swastika is intended to deliver a message to, and victimize, an entire community-and that's where hate crimes punishments come in.

      I'll note the federal law only covers violent felonies. The Texas law also addresses the grafitti example.

      Equality! It's what's for dinner!

      by DyspepTex on Wed Oct 28, 2009 at 02:19:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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