Friday, October 17, 2008
6060: Revisiting Hate-Crimes Law.
From The Chicago Sun-Times…
Expand hate-crimes law to cover transgender people
By Rick Garcia
Ten years ago this month, America felt the shock of the brutal murder of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard. He was tragically beaten to death because he was gay. I remember how frightening it was for gay people who didn’t live in places like San Francisco’s Castro District, Chicago’s Lake View or New York’s Village. Gay people in Illinois saw Shepard’s murder and wondered just how different Illinois and Wyoming were.
Gay and transgender people who live in Albion or Arcola, Red Bud or Roodhouse, Cave in the Rock or Carlinville and yes, even those who live in Chicago’s West, Northwest and South sides feared that what happened to a young gay man in Laramie, Wyoming, could happen to them right here in Illinois.
In the decade since Shepard’s death, we have seen more people killed simply because of who they were as persons -- they were gay, lesbian or did not fit traditional gender stereotypes.
This February, a 15-year-old boy in Oxnard, Calif., Larry King, told some of his classmates that he had a Valentine’s Day crush: another boy in their class. Less than 24 hours later, the boy Larry had a crush on had found out about the crush, brought a gun to school, and shot Larry in the back of the head because he was gay.
This summer, 18-year-old Angie Zapata went out on a date with a man in her Colorado hometown. Her date ended up beating her to death with a fire extinguisher, just because she was a transgender woman. And Illinois is not exempt.
As the public policy director for Equality Illinois, the statewide organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, I’ve seen these hate crimes and have been fighting on the front lines against these hate crimes.
Illinois does have one of the strongest hate crime statutes in the country, and we are proud of that, but more needs to be done.
Illinois’ Legislature included sexual orientation in our state’s hate crimes law, but not gender identity. Some of the most brutal and vicious attacks here have been against transgender individuals -- those who may not fit traditional gender stereotypes.
There’s overwhelming public support for gay and transgender-inclusive hate crimes laws, as shown by Gallup polling. Unfortunately, as shown by the news, gay and transgender folks here in Illinois and across the country are too often the victim of brutal hate crimes.
As we sit here 10 years after Shepard’s murder, we must do what we can to honor his legacy, to do all we can to ensure that a tragedy like this does not happen again, and never happens in our state.
We need comprehensive federal hate crimes legislation. Sen. John McCain must drop his opposition to such legislation, and Sen. Barack Obama should reaffirm his commitment to passing and implementing strong federal hate crimes legislation. And our Illinois hate crimes law must be amended to include gender identity.
We have a moral obligation to send a strong message that violence directed against anyone simply because of who they are or what they believe is never acceptable and the full weight of our law will enforce that message.