U.S. House passes LGBT hate crime bill

The bill expands hate crime provisions passed in 1969.

A bill to expand the federal hate crime statute to include crimes committed because of a person's sexual orientation and gender identity passed in the U.S. House last week and is expected to be signed into law.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act expands the hate crime provisions passed in 1969 to include crimes whose victims are targeted because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The bill's language does not address crimes targeting people who are queer and questioning. The legislation was passed as part of a larger defense-spending bill, with Missouri representatives voting 5-4 against the measure.

Beth Savitzky, executive director of the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project, said the measure's passage was a victory for the LGBTQ community to have the same protection as a group as other minorities, such as racial groups.

"Having legislative protection is important because of the message it sends that you cannot hate someone just because of who they are," Savitzky said. "That is a step in the right direction for the equal protection and recognition that all LBGT people deserve."

According to FBI statistics, 14 percent of the 113,000 hate crimes committed nationwide since 1991 were motivated by bias against the victim's sexual orientation.

A Senate version of the bill passed in late July, in a cloture vote of 65-38, with the support of five Republicans. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., voted for the bill and Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., did not cast a vote.

MU sophomore Ebonie Young, who worked at the LGBTQ Resource Center last school year, said the federal law should have already included such provisions.

"I think it's an excellent law to pass because sexuality is also something that is targeted," Young said. "It seems like something that should have already been included."

Several Missouri representatives opposed the House amendment. Some like Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., voted against the larger defense-spending bill specifically because of the hate crime measure attached to it.

Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., opposed the hate crimes measure when it came before the House as a standalone measure for the first time in late April but voted for the House version of the defense-spending bill even though it included the hate crimes amendment.

In a statement on his Web site, Luetkemeyer said he opposes the law because he believes it will make one person's life more valuable than another person's.

Luetkemeyer spokesman Paul Sloca said the congressman did not support the hate crimes measure but voted for the larger bill because it increases some soldier salaries.

"When the separate bill came up in April, Blaine voted against it," Sloca said. "But when it was attached to last week's bill, Blaine voted to support it because supporting the troops is of paramount importance to him."

A.J. Bockelman, executive director of PROMO, a St. Louis-based LGBTQ rights group, said the federal bill should have been passed many years ago, noting that Missouri passed hate crime legislation including provisions protecting sexual orientation and gender identity in 1999.

"It's long overdue," Bockelman said of the federal bill. "For Missouri to be ahead of the nation is surprising."

Bockelman said the increased punishments attached to hate crime charges are necessary as a deterrent because the groups protected by the law are more frequently targeted than the general population.

"What we've seen is that acts of discrimination are targeted at certain groups of people," Bockelman said. "The hope is that enhanced penalties will make people think twice before committing such a crime."

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