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Geoff Kors

By Geoff Kors, Executive Director, Equality California

Today marks the 11th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance -- the day we remember transgender people who have been murdered in violent hate crimes, simply for being who they are. People like Taysia Elzy of Minneapolis, Foxy Ivy of Detroit, Tyli’a Mack of Washington, DC, and -- in my home state of California -- Caprice Curry of San Francisco and Paulina Ibarra of East Hollywood. Some of these cases and others have been solved, while in others, convictions and proof remain elusive. The victims are disproportionately transwomen, people of color and people with lower incomes.

Today is a painful reminder that we must continue to take a stand against hate crimes and advocate for laws that help to keep these terrible crimes from happening.

But this past year has been one of progress. Congress has passed, and President Obama has signed, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which ensures that hate crimes against transgender, gay, lesbian and bisexual people can be investigated and prosecuted even when local and state law enforcement fail to act. Equality California sponsored resolutions in both the California Senate and Assembly calling on the U.S. Congress to pass the Act; both of these resolutions passed, putting our state lawmakers on record in support of the Act. Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.  

The new federal hate crimes law is modeled on many state laws, including those we have worked so hard to pass here in California. EQCA fought successfully to have "gender identity and expression" be written into our hate crimes law, and in 2006, we sponsored the Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act that prevents perpetrators of hate crimes from using panic defenses. But both state advocates and the authors of the federal law know that simply having a law against hate crimes isn’t enough. We must educate the public and law enforcement about these crimes and why they must be prevented. The new federal law provides for educating the public and law enforcement about hate violence. In 2006, EQCA strengthened our state’s approach by sponsoring a bill -- which also passed -- that required law enforcement to receive increased training on hate crimes.

Outside of hate crimes, we’ve also worked hard to make California a more welcoming state for transgender people, knowing that a friendlier climate in the state leads to greater safety and reduced incidents of hate. In 2003 EQCA advocated for the inclusion of "gender identity and expression" to the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. We’ve also protected transgender people from discrimination in domestic violence services, health care, state-funded programs, business establishments, juvenile justice facilities and publicly funded education programs and activities for youth. Our Political Action Committee only endorses 100 percent pro-equality candidates who have voiced support for insurance coverage of transition-related surgery. Every year we are the presenting sponsor of the Transgender Summit in Sacramento and send our staff to train attendees on doing their own legislative advocacy. EQCA is committed to doing all it can to strengthen transgender rights and protections in California and across the country. We’ll continue this fight as long as it takes.

Transgender Day of Remembrance is always a difficult day. It’s hard to look back and remember the many people our community has lost to hate violence. But we are on the right path. If we keep working to improve our laws and educate our friends, families, coworkers and neighbors about our lives, I know that we’ll see less and less hate crimes and move closer and closer to full equality.

P.S. Join EQCA across California tonight for vigils and commemorations for Transgender Day of Remembrance! Visit www.eqca.org to find your local events.

Equality California’s executive director Geoff Kors has a long and distinguished record of service to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. At EQCA, Geoff directs EQCA’s legislative efforts which have given LGBT Californians the most comprehensive civil rights protections in the nation. Under Geoff's leadership, EQCA has passed more LGBT rights legislation than any other organization of its kind in the country. During his tenure, California became the first state in the nation to pass marriage legislation for same-sex couples. Geoff also oversees EQCA's Political Action Committee activities and educational work with the EQCA Institute, including the Let California Ring campaign.

The post below also appears on EQCA's blog, California Ripple Effect.

Originally posted to Equality California on Fri Nov 20, 2009 at 03:42 PM PST.

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