Saturday, August 18, 2007

Essay 4335

From The Chicago Sun-Times…


The expanded law is vitally needed to curb hate crimes

By Rummana Hussain

The two men eyed the slight, gay university student as he entered the eatery with a female friend.

“Hey faggot!” a voice beckoned toward Brett Timmerman. “Why don’t you take your faggot ass back to Madison?”

Before he knew it, Timmerman’s tormentors greeted him with a slap, gobs of spit and a swift blow to the head as he was tackled to the ground, according to a lawsuit he filed against his attackers.

Timmerman is waiting to testify about the vicious 2005 attack that ruptured his ear drum. While his physical wounds have mended, the Wisconsin man’s psychological scars linger -- just as they do for a black mother of two who heard chants of “Burn mother - - - - - -, burn!” outside her Philadelphia house before discovering racial slurs and fake blood splashed across her steps.

Like other hate crime targets, Timmerman still has nightmares.

Based on FBI statistics, a hate crime is committed once every hour in this country. One out of six of those victims are targeted because they are gay, according to an attorney at the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign. These statistics don’t capture all attacks because victims are often too embarrassed and too afraid to speak out. The data also doesn’t track attacks on transgendered people.

Attacks against homosexuals have remained consistent for several years. Gay rights activists say they have no reason to believe attacks against homosexuals are on the rise, but brutal attacks such as the 1998 torture and slaying of Matthew Shepard, who was tied to a fence and left for dead in Laramie, Wyo., are a reminder of just how savage hatemongers can be.

That’s why the passage of a pending Senate bill, aptly named after Shepard, is considered vital to curb hate crimes and the overall violence that has pervaded our society.

The proposed act simply extends the existing federal hate crimes law -- which now levies additional punishment in cases of violence when race and ethnicity is a prime motivator for the attacks -- to protect homosexuals and the transgendered.

Proponents of the act say the new protections would not legitimize gay lifestyles or keep anyone from using homophobic slurs -- as long as violence is not involved. The few religious leaders and right-wing leaders worried that it would prevent them from spouting their anti-gay rhetoric should stop misleading their flocks, say gay activists.

“They’ve been preaching that [anti-gay rhetoric] since the dawn of day,” said Laura Velazquez, anti-violence project manager for the Center on Halsted. “We’re not trying to stop that. What we’re trying to emphasize is a need to prevent any type of hate crime or violence.”

Timmerman’s attorney Jim Madigan, of Chicago’s Lambda Legal, believes having expanded protections for gays would have brought some relief to his client: “It’ll certainly make those who target certain people think twice.”

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