Hate Crimes Expansion Covers Gender, Orientation, Disability

Article excerpt

It doesn't seem possible, but after more than 20 years ofNO W advocating for the addition of a criminal prohibition against gender-based hate crimes, it is finally federal law. There were days when we had to argue with some of our colleagues in the civil rights community over whether gender should be one of the listed categories. Violence against women is so normalized that some would question singling out gender bias and placing it alongside such recognized categories as race and religion. But a better understanding of the problem has evolved, and many now recognize that women are, in fact, attacked because of a hatred of their sex.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA), signed into law on Oct. 28, 2009, expands existing federal statutes to encompass criminal prohibitions against bias-motivated crimes based on a victim's actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability. Matthew Shepard was the young gay man who was brutally beaten in Wyoming and left to die on a rural fence in 1998, while James Byrd, Jr., an African-American man, was dragged behind a truck to his death in Texas that same year.

HCPA authorizes the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute certain bias-motivated crimes wherever they might occur, instead of in formerly limited circumstances involving a federally-protected activity. In states that do not include in their hate crimes laws the categories of sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability, federal law enforcement officials will be able to be involved. Only 26 states have laws against gender-based hate crimes and just 30 states cover sexual orientation. The new gender identity category addresses bias-motivation crimes against bisexual and transgendered persons - often targeted for violent acts.

HCPA also amends the Hate Crimes Statistics Act (HCSA) to collect data on hate crimes motivated by gender and gender-identity as well as crimes involving juveniles. …