Have a Heart: Help Prevent Hate Crimes

Article excerpt

To help create a better understanding of hate crimes and how they effect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community, NOW activists across the country took action this Valentine's Day to speak out against hate crimes on the day devoted to love.

In Washington, D.C., NOW activists joined together in front of the Department of Justice to speak out against hate crimes. The protest called for the expansion of federal hate crimes protections to include crimes motivated by biases based upon gender, sexual orientation and disability. In addition to sending an important message about the protection from hate violence that all people deserve, the action was a reminder to Attorney General John Ashcroft that he must uphold the Constitution and vigorously enforce the law.

Bias crimes, also called "hate crimes" or "malicious harassment," are crimes in which the offender intentionally selects a victim based on real or perceived membership in a particular group. Bias crimes not only hurt the individual victim, but also serve to intimidate and subjugate an entire group, thereby disrupting the tranquility and safety of whole communities. The federal statute currently used to prosecute hate violence in the U.S. does not cover violence based on gender, sexual orientation or disability. This statute is further limited by the requirement that the victim be attacked while engaging in federally-protected activity, such as attending school or voting.

On the day before Valentine's Day, the FBI released a hate crimes report which revealed that hate and bias-motivated murders have reached a five-year high. The FBI report showed a rise in biasrelated crimes based on race, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity and religion. What was missing? Gender-bias crimes were not included.

To ensure that the rights and safety of all persons are protected, NOW continues to demand that gender, sexual orientation and disability be included in the Hate Crimes Prevention Act and that the requirement of federally-protected activity be dropped. NOW urges members to write their representatives at all levels, pressuring them to expand current hate crimes laws to be inclusive of all groups.

In past years, NOW activists nationwide have been visible on Valentine's Days in support of equal marriage rights. Some have staged same-sex marriages, rallied to protest marriage bans, delivered Valentine's cards to senators urging them to permit same-sex marriages, organized same-sex wedding marches through college campuses and held public forums and street performances to educate the community. …