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Topic of the Day: Hate Crimes; President Clinton's Conference on Hate Crimes Has America Talking about the Violence Endured by Gay Men and Lesbians

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President Clinton's conference on hate crimes has America talking about the violence endured by gay men and lesbians

Violence against gay men and lesbians and other minority groups garners President Clinton's attension this month as he convenes the White House Conference on Hate Crimes. Activists involved with antiviolence groups say they are hopeful the conference will lead to more and tougher laws nationwide regarding hate crimes, better training for police, and education for schoolchildren about the problem of bias-motivated attacks.

As part of our continuing series on hate crimes, The Advocate questioned three openly gay people who have been heavily involved in the hate-crimes discussion: Richard Socarides, special assistant to the president and director of the White House Conference on Hate Crimes; Sharen Shaw Johnson, executive director of Gay Men and Lesbians Opposing Violence, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group; and Jeff Jones, a volunteer with the Documentation Project, which tracks hate crimes for the Gay and Leshian Service Organization in Lexington, Ky.

What results are you hoping for from this conference?

SOCARIDES: We are focusing national attention on this problem, highlighting what the Administration is already doing and what new initiatives we will be undertaking. We need to focus on positive steps local communities have taken and what others can do. We could see several proposals come out of it, some of which would require legislative action, some of which would not. There could be proposals about enhanced law enforcement, data collection, and an education initiative.

JOHNSON: I m hoping that getting so many different groups together will help us all form new coalitions. We can address issues better if we're working together. We need allies. I also hope there will be increased training for the FBI in recognizing hate crimes.

JONES: It would be great to have a federal hate-crimes law that includes sexual orientation. The local police departments [in Kentucky] don't have the training and often avoid issues that deal with sexual orientation. We need to educate police about hate crimes and force police departments to have some type of mandatory reporting of all hate crimes, not just in urban areas but also rural areas.

How do you think the president can make a difference on an issue like fighting hate crimes?

SOCARIDES: The president can draw attention to an issue like no other person in the country. By drawing attention to the issue, it focuses the country on that issue. The president feels very strongly that there is no place for this type of bias-motivated conduct.

JOHNSON: The presidency is still the greatest bully pulpit in the world. We had an example of that when [Clinton] gave his radio address in June an. pouncing the conference. We believe it's the first time a U.S. president has spoken against gay and lesbian violence. The radio address alone prompted editorial support from newspapers. It has a ripple effect throughout the country.

JONES: This is a serious problem that isn't documented very much. Whenever you have someone at a high level talk about a problem, it tells people farther down the line that you have to deal with this problem.

What is the most pressing challenge facing the gay and lesbian community in fighting hate crimes?

SOCARIDES: We need to get local law enforcement to take this issue seriously. There are many jurisdictions that for varying reasons don't have hate-crimes statutes or don't have their statutes enforced aggressively enough.

JOHNSON: I would like to see federal attention directed toward hate violence; against gay and lesbian youth. We know this group is the most endangered in our community.

JONES: In the local cities in Kentucky, the police departments understand. There are gay and lesbian officers. But in the rural areas and smaller cities, you sometimes have police who aren't as professional. …