Monday, October 26, 2009
From Criminals to a Protected Class in Hate Crimes Law
When President Obama signs the hate crimes law on Wednesday, an important six-year journey will be complete. What won't be fulfilled, of course, is the need for further legislation protecting the employment of GLBT people and recognizing our relationships. But the bill represents the transformation of our community from criminals to a class marked for protection from crime. Strictly speaking, the categories of sexual orientation and gender identity are netural since everyone has a sexual orientation and a gender identity, but the effect will be to recognize GLBT people in federal law.
Only six years ago the Supreme Court handed down Lawrence v Texas, which overturned state sodomy laws. Many states had already undone their sodomy laws, but some had not. Without the Court's ruling, any of the states could theoretically reinstate them. The Lawrence decision meant that same-sex relationships, though not fully recognized, could not be criminalized. And now in the space of just six years from Lawrence, crimes committed against us because of our sexual orientation and gender identity will receive greater scrutiny and more resources will be available to solve them.
Transgender people will count. Literally. Currently the FBI tracks hate violence based on sexual orientation, but not acts based on gender identity. Now both kinds of bias-motivated violence will be tracked, investigated, and prosecuted. That is good news for Tennessee where prosecutions are rare and our state hate crimes law does not include gender identity.
Progress can never be rapid enough for a group that faces discrimination and violence. We have much further to go to realize the promise of equal protection. But the movement from Lawrence to the hate crimes law is a breath-taking development and worthy of celebration.