The following is the first in a series concerning bias against LGBT in all facets of life, including crime and employment, called Fighting Hate. We will look at what’s going on, who is doing what to whom and how. If we don’t know what’s happening, we can do nothing about it.
Passage of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 (H.R. 1592) by the U.S. House of Representatives in a 237-180 bipartisan vote on May 3 signaled the success of a 230-plus member coalition led by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) that includes gay and civil rights organizations, labor, law enforcement professionals, religious groups and professional governmental entities in fighting hate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. The coalition includes: the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, America’s premier civil rights coalition; the American Civil Liberties Union; various unions under the AFL-CIO umbrella; all of the mainstream Protestant denominations and several major Roman Catholic social justice organizations; several major Jewish organizations including Hadassah, the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee and the National Council of Jewish Women; law enforcement organizations like the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association and National District Attorneys Association, and; several associations of governmental entities such as United States Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities.
The bill expands existing federal hate crimes laws to include offenses motivated by actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or disability; provides “technical, forensic, prosecutorial, or any other form of assistance in the criminal investigation or prosecution” of bias-motivated crimes under state, local and tribal laws, and; allows jurisdictions to apply for federal grants to help local, state and tribal entities prevent hate crimes committed by juveniles. A little-recognized provision would extend the federal government’s ability to intervene even if the offense was not committed on federal property or the victim was not engaged in one of six federally protected activities at the time the offense occurred as current laws require. The protected activities are: voting; participating in a federal program; working, or applying to work, for the federal government; serving on a jury; participating in a federally-funded program, and; engaging in interstate commerce. The measure is expected to reach the floor of the Senate, where it is called the Matthew Shepard Act (S. 1105), very soon. President George Bush has vowed to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.
What many people do not realize is that the H.R. 1592 coalition includes several black civil rights organizations whose constituency is already included in existing hate crimes laws. However, because they believe it is the right thing to do, they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with HRC and other gay rights advocacy groups to support the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. In doing so, they have become targets of the Religious Right in general and black Religious Right proponents in particular.
In a statement released upon his introduction of the bill, Congressman John Conyers (D-MI), chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee and founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) said, “This legislation is a constructive and measured response to a problem that continues to plague our nation. Behind each of the hate crime statistics is an individual or community targeted for violence for no other reason than race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. These are crimes that shock and shame our national conscience and should be subject to comprehensive federal law enforcement assistance and prosecution.”
According to Hate Crimes Statistics, 2005, an annual report released last October, “7,163 criminal incidents involving 8,380 offenses were reported in 2005 as a result of bias toward a particular race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity/national origin, or physical or mental disability.” Of those incidents, 54.7% were motivated by race, 17.1% by religion, 14.2% by sexual orientation, 13.2% by ethnicity/national origin and .7% by disability. It is generally believed that bias crimes based on sexual orientation are widely underreported. Indeed, many jurisdictions do not keep records of such offenses at all and there are no FBI statistics on gender identity-based hate crimes. The Justice Department is required by the Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990 to collect data on bias-motivated offenses from legal jurisdictions throughout the country.
Religious Rights organizations vehemently opposed H.R. 1592 after it was introduced by, claiming that it was an attack on Christian values.
In an editorial titled “Conyers’ ‘Hate Grandma’ bill introduced in House” on the Religious Right “news” site WorldNetDaily.com, Janet Folger, president of the Christian activist group Faith2Action, wrote that the congressman “must hate free speech. He must hate equality. And he must hate…grandma. And I think it’s a crime.” She goes on to say that H.R. 1592 would increase the penalties for any crime committed against LGBT and that it would be safer to rob a heterosexual senior citizen. “So, if you’re going to mug someone, better make sure it’s grandma (unless she’s become a lesbian) – because if the guy whose money you steal happens to be a homosexual, you’re looking at a triple sentence. Go after grandma, and it’s one-third off! Hey, why don’t we save everyone a lot of time and just hand out “Conyers’ Coupons for Criminals!”
The so-called “Conyers’ Coupons for Criminals” is a concept almost too convoluted to take seriously, but theoretically indicates the lower level of culpability imposed by committing a crime against a non-protected class; in this instance, a non-LGBT person as opposed to someone who would be protected under an extension of current hate crimes laws.
“The legislation is ostensibly designed to aid local law enforcement officials, but the real objective is to make homosexual behaviors, cross-dressing, and transsexualism into federally protected minority groups. Changeable behaviors are thus to be accorded the same federal protection as race,” wrote the Rev. Louis P. Shelton, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, on that group’s web site. He went on to say, “If signed into law, H.R. 1592 will usher in the death of religious freedom and speech in this nation. Any critical comments about homosexual sodomy will be considered ‘hate speech’ and outside the bounds of First Amendment protections. It has already happened in Canada and it will happen here if H.R. 1592 and other laws like it are not soundly defeated.” The page includes the graphic on the right of a WANTED poster with a supposed picture of Jesus and the heading “For Violation of the Proposed Hate Crimes Law In His Teachings And In His Book ‘The Bible.’”
Interviewed by TWW just hours before the House vote, HRC Regional Field Direction Colin O’Dea said, “I think [the vote will] be a little closer than people thought. I think the Religious Right did a lot more work than we thought they were going to do and caught us a little bit off-guard–not just HRC, but the progressive community as a whole.”
According to the blog Pam’s House Blend, a good read for a summary of the Religious Right’s anti-hate crime bill activities before and after it passed the House (also see these articles), members of Congress were blanketed with e-mail, faxes, letters and phone calls urging them to vote against the measure. Although efforts to amend hate crimes laws to include LGBT people have been introduced since the 1970s, opposition was particularly strong this time, including a failed petition stating that hate crimes legislation would: “Silence the Bible-believing Churches, Pastors and Christians”; “Elevate homosexuality and gender confused individuals such as drag queens, cross-dressers, she-males, etc. to the status of federally-protected minorities. These behaviors will be considered equal to race under the federal law,” and; “Fund anti-Christian curriculum for children K-12, through the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice to promote homosexuality and cross-dressing as normal behaviors,” among other false and inflammatory accusations.
Bishop Harry R. Jackson, Jr., senior pastor of the Washington, DC-area Hope Christian Church and leader of the ultra conservative black Christian political group High Impact Leadership Coalition, held a news conference about a week before passage of H.R. 1592. Flanked by several other black ministers, he said that their joining with conservative white Christians “represents a landmark transition that’s going on in our nation. In fact, what is going on is that there is an amalgamation–a coming together of the black church . . . and the white church against this kind of legislation.” (See this transcript of his statements.) Jackson, at No. 22, was voted one of the 50 Most Influential Christians in America by Church Report Magazine last January. Bishop T.D. Jakes (No. 4), The Potter’s House in Houston, TX; Bishop Eddie L. Long (No. 34), New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, Lithonia, GA, and; Dr. Creflo A. Dollar (No. 48), World Changers International are the other black ministers/pastors on the list–all falling squarely in the Religious Right camp.
O’Dea, the HRC regional field director noted that events like Jackson’s press conference are big news because they are so rare. “In communities of color, there are more supporters than most people would think. It makes bigger news when the minister of a mega-church comes out in favor of standing with Bush or standing with the Republicans because [it happens infrequently].”
He is quite right. Much to Jackson’s consternation, by and large, black leaders have been strong supporters of efforts to include LGBT in hate crimes and other pieces of civil rights legislation. “[H.R. 1592] has been endorsed by the NAACP, by other black leadership in high-ranking, kind of official, capacity. But, unfortunately, many of the forerunners of the Civil Rights Movement in the early days are now out-of-touch with what is going on. They are not moving in step with the real grassroots of the black community. So we have a limited number of autonomous, self-appointed leaders who are standing to speak inappropriately for the black community,” he remarked.
Although Jackson did not name specific black leaders, it is a sure bet he included members of the CBC, long-time advocates of civil rights for LGBT people, including support for employment protection, opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act and inclusive hate crime legislation.
An analysis of the May 3 House vote reveals that only 11 members did not co-sponsor the bill (including one deceased and one Senate member), and; only four members did not vote for the bill (one deceased, one Senate member and two absent members). In short, H.R. 1592 received the overwhelming support of CBC members. (Voting results taken from GovTrack.us.)
In a press release issued upon passage of H.R. 1592, CBC Chairwoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-MI) said, “One of our most important charges is to protect and defend [America's] citizens, which is precisely what H.R. 1592, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, introduced by one of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus, House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, Jr. [does]. . . . As we celebrate two centuries of the end of the African Slave Trade, it is our hope that today will be the beginning of the end of the decades of mindless hatred, bigotry, and discrimination against all God’s children. All Americans have an investment in a stable, violence free government, and that is exactly what this bill provides.”
Jackson may not have enumerated specific black leaders for condemnation, however, he did single out the venerable National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for their support of the bill. Former U.N. ambassador and current NAACP Chairman of the Board Julian Bond has been a steadfast supporter of gay rights. As an advisor and colleague of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he has a unique and unquestionably authoritative view of discrimination in America. When asked in a September 2006 interview conducted by America Online’s Black Voices why a lot of black people think that black rights are reduced when others gain their own, Bond responded, “I don’t know. I think it’s because they don’t have an understanding of the universality of rights. They somehow think, wrongly, that if Joe gets rights, then John loses rights. Which of course, doesn’t make sense. This is a win-win game for everybody.”
In his keynote address at the 2005 Equality Virginia annual dinner, Bond said, “Gay and lesbian rights are not ‘special rights’ in any way. It isn’t ‘special’ to be free from discrimination–it is an ordinary, universal entitlement of citizenship. The right not to be discriminated against is a common-place claim we all expect to enjoy under our laws and our founding document, the Constitution. That many had to struggle to gain these rights makes them precious–it does not make them special, and it does not reserve them only for me or restrict them from others.”
The NAACP, the CBC, Conyers and Julian Bond were not the only prominent black organizations and individuals endorsing H.R. 1592. Joining them are the A. Philip Randolph Institute; the African Methodist Episcopal Church; the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists; the Congress of National Black Churches; the National Black Police Association; the National Urban League, and; the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition Union, among others. Read the entire list of supporters.
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