Hate Crimes Legislation: Why It Matters

October 30, 2009 at 11:25 am | Posted in American Politics, Legislation | 1 Comment
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Recently, the Hate Crimes bill was passed.

It was stuck inside a much bigger defense bill.

But, nonetheless, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed Congress on October 22, 2009, and President Barack Obama signed the bill into law on October 28, 2009.

What does it say, exactly? Why does it matter? What can it actually do? And does it affect the non-LGT queer community?

The text of the bill itself can be found on the Library of Congress website.

Oh, and by the way I found yet another Washington Post journalist who is a complete douchebag when it comes to community inclusiveness: he doesn’t even include lesbians, this time. It’s all about “the gays.” May as well make it “teh gayz” and show your real intelligence level, bud. Because, after all, this piece of legislation is actually all-inclusive of everyone in the queer community on some level. This “Perry Bacon, Jr.” character is so obviously on the anti-LGBT side it’s ridiculous, so even with the benefit of the doubt that maybe he’s the usually-somewhat-liberal WPost’s attempt at being balanced, there’s no need to be THAT ignorant. Even if you think we’re immoral, we’re still human. The text of the bill (maybe you need to read it yourself, Mr. Not-Kosher-Food, Jr.?) was worded very specifically so as to include the entire spectrum of identities — sexual, gender, and otherwise.

First thing in the bill, Congress states what its “findings” are in regard to hate crimes.

And I quote:

    Congress makes the following findings:

     

  • (1) The incidence of violence motivated by the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim poses a serious national problem. (Source)

I will reiterate from my last post: this post includes the words “actual or perceived” and “gender, sexual orientation, gender identity” are the keys here as it relates to “teh gayz,” as you would say, Perry. (We’re on a first name basis now, so I hope that’s okay. You can call me Rae.)

With “gender, sexual orientation, gender identity,” this can relate to pretty much everyone on the planet: male, female, transgender, transexual, intersex, gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual, pansexual, ambisexual, omnisexual, gender-queer, asexual, agendered, poly-gendered, androgynous, and what-have-you. (For your information, I have actually met at least one person who identifies as each of the above list–I really wasn’t making a single one up. Except for the “male” one. I don’t believe in males.)                          (*giggle*)

Second point: it doesn’t even matter if someone identifies as one of these or any other protected category. Because the legislature found that crime can often be perpetrated on the basis of “perceived” identity status. Meaning: you might not be gay, Perry, but if some thug thinks you are and slugs you for it, Ta Da! That’s a hate crime, and your attacker would receive a stricter punishment for it. So really, this bill protects you, too.

So if you’re wondering why this bill matters, I’ll tell you.

Everyone is at risk of a hate crime.

I’ll say it again:

Everyone is at risk of a hate crime.

You don’t have to be queer of any sort to be a potential target. You just have to have someone think you are. (Or even if you encounter the queer mafia and get beaten up for being too straight. That, by the way, would be a hate crime, too, since heterosexuals are included the term “sexual orientation” as well.)

At any rate, back to the serious issue at hand: Perry, Mr. Douchebag Reporter Sir, you could at least try to hint at the broad scope which this legislation has. You don’t need to include every term out there. I didn’t even include every identity out there, just ones I’ve encountered, and I’m sure there are dozens more in this wonderfully diverse country. But even if you use the perfunctory term “LGBT,” you’ll get the majority of queer people covered. Maybe you can get your editor off your back long enough to slip a “Q” at the end of it or even (*gasp!*) the full word “queer.” Just, you know, recognize that the community that this legislation affects isn’t just “gay.” Because it affects me, and I’m bisexual. It affects my friend who lives down the street who is gender-queer. It affects my other friend’s ex who is transgender. It affects my former classmate who is asexual. It affects my little sister who is a proud straight ally (shout out: love you, L.!) and has received harassment for her support of LGBTQ rights. It can have an impact on anybody.

Broaden your horizons. I dare you.

Now, the question many seem to ask about this type of legislation: What the hell can it actually do?

It’s called the “Hate Crimes Prevention Act.” Does it really act to prevent?

Meh, not really, I say.

What it does is make punishments harsher. Let’s read the actual text where it talks about punishments:

OFFENSES INVOLVING ACTUAL OR PERCEIVED RELIGION, NATIONAL ORIGIN, GENDER, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, GENDER IDENTITY, OR DISABILITY-

  • (A) IN GENERAL- Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, in any circumstance described in subparagraph (B) or paragraph (3), willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of any person–
    • (i) shall be imprisoned not more than 10 years, fined in accordance with this title, or both; and
    • (ii) shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life, fined in accordance with this title, or both, if–
      • (I) death results from the offense; or
      • (II) the offense includes kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill.

So, while that may be a bunch of gobbledy-gook to some level, it basically says that people who cause harm to someone because of the victim’s membership or perceived membership in the listed protected classes get quite a harsh punishment. While your basic random beating might get a thug a year or three, a hate crime beating will get that person ten years in the lock-up. And while your basic random shooting or kidnapping might get you 25 to life (depending on the state), if it’s a hate crime, it’ll land you a life sentence for certain, and a fee besides.

Does that prevent hate crimes?

Uhm, I dunno. If you think about a bigot’s thought process before possibly committing one, I can’t imagine part of it being, “Well, hm, let me think about this: is this illegal? Probably… how much jail time will I get? Ten if they can prove a hate crime, two if they can’t… better not do it!”

(That’s another thing: proving that something is a hate crime. It’s basically a thought thing. Some situations are obviously hate crimes: Matthew Shepard. A drag queen being beaten in an alley. A kid who constantly gets teased at school for being a “homo” who is then found dead in a river with “fag” carved into his skin. Those scream “hate crime.” But some can be more shades of gray, especially without witnesses.)

At any rate, I don’t think this will make a concerted effort to prevent hate crimes anytime soon, although education is getting better on these issues and if all goes well, hate crimes will dissipate for other reasons.

What this does do is give closure to the victims and the entire community to which the victim belongs or was perceived to belong.

If my friend gets attacked for being lesbian or androgynous, and her attacker walks away, I will feel significantly less safe and my friend will be traumatized and live in fear for quite some time. PTSD after an attack may occur after any crime. A hate crime, though, affects not only the victim, but everyone who can ever relate to the victim. After all, the attacker doesn’t care about hating my friend in particular. He cares about hating the entire LGBTQ community. And it could have been any one of us walking by at that point in time when he struck out. And it will be any one of us walking by the next time an attack could occur. If all goes to plan, though, he’ll be in jail for ten years. If he assaults her sexually, for life. I feel a bit safer that way, as does much of the rest of the queer community.

This legislation protects every one of us in this country from repeat attacks from released hate crime committers. Maybe it doesn’t prevent the first hate crime from occurring–a widespread education effort is needed for that — but it’s a step in the right direction. It does have a statute of limitations imposed for offenses not resulting in death– 7 years, which is still longer that the statute of limitations on rape, by the way — but there’s no such statute for offenses resulting in death. So now we have the tools to prosecute those who commit hate crimes.

Kudos to Obama and our Congress.

We still need more education, though, if we’re going to truly prevent hate crimes from happening the first time–not just prevent repeat offenders.

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Ambiqueerious, The Blog.

October 23, 2009 at 5:21 pm | Posted in American Politics, Legislation, Let's Get Personal | Leave a comment
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Bisexuality: the third letter in the oft-cited acronym “LGBT” intended to be inclusive of all people with non-mainstream sexual orientations or gender identities.

Two problems:

  1. “LGBT” doesn’t even come close to describing every single sexual or gender identity out there which doesn’t fit into the heteronormative mainstream view of how people should look/act/be with/sleep with/fuck/love/whatever with other people.
  2. “Bisexual” is 95% of the time merely a perfunctory inclusion. No one actually intends to discuss or consider bisexual identities, politics, relationships, or existences.

What are the solutions?

I don’t know. That’s why I’m writing. Maybe you can help me out.

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is RaeAn. (All right, it’s a pen name, but it’s one I use for everything — I’m not hiding anything.) I’m in my early twenties. I went to the University of Maryland, where I got a degree in Jewish Studies, a certificate in LGBT Studies, and a notation in Creative Writing. I figured out I was bisexual when I was 15 or 16; I was very lucky to figure this out in an extremely open and welcoming environment, a summer camp in NY, where people supported me and helped me grow into my newfound identity throughout the summer, as opposed to back home in Georgia where I encountered quite a bit of animosity and needed to be confident in my identity before I could defend it as much as I had to. I alternate between describing myself as bisexual, queer, and “I-don’t-care-what-you-are-as-long-as-you’re-pretty”-sexual. I identify as polyamorous, but have no issue with monogamy and have had monogamous relationships in the past which have been equally as fulfilling as my poly relationships in the past. I’m currently in no relationships. I’m content with that for the moment.

I find queer theory and discourse to be fascinating, and I wanted to maintain my participation in such discussions past graduation from my LGBT Studies program. I started a Twitter account, @ambiqueerious, since I already maintained a personal Twitter and a Twitter for my internship in DC. I figured I may as well tack another one onto my TweetDeck app that might be relevant to people I don’t necessarily know personally, but to whom I may be connected via my frustrations with the “LGBT” community and the way the world treats and views queer people of all stripes and colors.

Then I came across an article in the Washington Post that had me ranting to a friend on Google Chat for quite some time. I posted it to the Twitter, but I so did not want to be limited to 140 characters for this one.

And thus it was born: Ambiqueerious, The Blog.

I don’t know how often I’ll post. To be honest, I’m working full-time in a very frustrating and dead-end restaurant job to pay the bills, interning with a Jewish LGBT organization in DC for free to get work experience in my desired field, and on a dance team, so free time is limited. But I’ll devote some of it to this blog whenever I can. I get frustrated often enough to need to vent. But I also see some awesome, great stuff going on that I need to point out. There are some people doing great work out there for bi visibility. I’ll shout out to those people as I go along.

Also, happy LGBT History Month!

Speaking of history: let’s get into the issue that started this need for a blog.

Matthew Shepard. We all know his story. (If you don’t: go here to catch up.) His mother, Judy Shepard, has done wonders for the community in promoting and defending hate crimes legislation. We sort of had it, then we didn’t, then it only included some people and not others, and… etc.

Hate crimes legislation has finally made it to Congress! And it’s all-inclusive of both “sexual orientation” AND “gender identity!” Yay! Big high-five for all of us who want people to pay for bias-related crimes more than random-victim crimes! (Maybe I’ll get into why I support this later — it’s complicated, but I have a different issue at the moment.)

It passes the Senate! And it even makes it into the Washington Post! Hey, look, Mr. Reporter Sir, tell us the good news! We have a bill that’s going to protect all of us, right?

The Senate cleared a historic hate crimes bill Thursday for President Obama’s signature, approving new federal penalties for attacks on gay men and lesbians.

Oh. Right. Gay men and lesbians. I love me some of them, but uh, you do realize what the wording of the bill is, right?

Allow me a quote from the text of the legislation. This is the part where the punishments are delineated for perpetrators of hate crimes who are defined as *Ahem*:

    Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, in any circumstance described in subparagraph (B) or paragraph (3), willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability of any person
    (Source: Library of Congress, emphasis added)

Let’s pick this apart as it relates to queer people. (Not knocking the impact this has on people with disabilities or of minority national origins or religions, but those parts have been on the books for quite some time, and this is a queer blog, after all.)

  • “Actual or perceived.” This is the BEST part of this legislation! It made me so giddy when I read this. That means that if you get beaten up because someone thinks you’re in a protected class, such as those listed after these three words, even if you’re not, hate crimes legislation can still apply. Remember Jaheem Hererra? He committed suicide in my home town in Georgia after being bullied at school because other students perceived him to be gay and labeled him as such. He was never out and nobody knows if he was gay or not. It doesn’t matter. He was bullied because of his perceived sexuality–and that would fall under this hate crimes legislation if these bullies caused, or attempted to cause, bodily harm to Jaheem.
  • “Gender” and “gender identity.” These two work best in combination with each other. Transpeople are finally going to be protected in hate crimes. Now, if someone is attacked for their “actual or perceived” gender or gender identity, it carried the same penalty as a crime perpetrated based on race. This means biological females who identify as women, male-to-female transgender people, female-to-male transgender people, drag queens, cross-dressers, pre- and post-op transpeople, transpeople with no intention of having surgery, gender-queer people, intersex people, agendered people, whatever you want to be and whoever you are: hate crimes legislation can apply to a crime based on these, and many more, identities, people, and situations.
  • “Sexual orientation.” Here’s my biggie. Listen up, Mr. Reporter Sir (whose name is actually Ben Pershing–I hope he Googles his name and gets this at some point), and read those two words again: “sexual orientation.” It does not say “gay and lesbian orientation.” It’s more general and all-encompassing than that. It includes bisexuals. Pansexuals. Asexuals. People who don’t fit into any category and yet don’t fit into your heteronormative category either. Or people perceived to be in any of these categories or non-categories. Which means, Mr. Reporter Sir, you, too, are included in this. I don’t know what your sexual identity is. But it doesn’t matter. This covers straight people and queer people alike. Because if you walked into the wrong neighborhood wearing something that someone thought made you look queer and you got attacked for it–this legislation covers you.

This is my beef with common perceptions of gender and sexuality. It’s such a dichotomy: you’re either black or white, male or female, gay or straight. Well, some of us are in between.

This legislation could be a life-saver. Or perhaps just make victims feel safer in their conviction that their attacker(s) get what they deserve. Let’s take a situation: A man goes out among gay men. He identifies as bisexual. One of the gay men starts making cracks about fence-sitters, about how he’ll come all the way out of the closet eventually, he’s just too scared to make the leap to being gay. Another guy chimes in with more vicious comments about bisexual men spreading diseases more quickly than gay men, and another says he finds bisexuals to be disgusting. It escalates. The bisexual man doesn’t know how to respond; he starts walking away, but one of the other guys grabs him, another grabs him but harder, and the bisexual man panics. He struggles trying to get away, but this only eggs on the other men. One of the guys throws the first punch, and soon enough, our bisexual man is lying next to a building with a cracked rib, swollen black eyes, and no way to call for help.

It could happen.

God forbid it ever does. But it could.

And the legislation which just passed the Senate protects against that, too, Mr. Pershing.

I thank whatever deity there is that someone more aware of the world than you wrote this legislation.

~~~

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