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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
October 6, 2000

 

Bar reopens, ten days after shooting spree

Roanoke, Va.óThe Backstreet Cafe reopened October 2, ten days after Ronald Gay murdered Danny Lee Overstreet and wounded six other people in an attack spurred by mental illness and jokes about his name.

After an evening of drinking on September 22, Gay left his motel room and asked an employee of a downtown club where a gay bar was. After the worker told him of the Park, six blocks away, Gay showed a 9mm pistol and said he wanted to "go waste some fags."

As the worker called police, Gay headed toward the Park. But three blocks away, he happened upon the cityís other gay bar. He went in to the Backstreet, ordered a beer, and started shooting.

Since then, the sidewalk in front of the closed Backstreet had become a shrine to Overstreet and the wounded, all but one of whom have been released from the hospital. Iris Page Webb, who was shot in the neck, has been moved out of intensive care and is listed in stable condition.

There are changes in the reopened Backstreet. The booths are gone, shot up in the attack, as is the cigarette machine. One thing that hasnít changed, though, is the desire of the customers and the staff to gather at the bar as a family.

"This is our home," Sue Stroud, a regular at the bar, told the Roanoke Times. "I canít let Ronald Gay take that away from me. I got to focus on the positive, the good. I got to take back my bar."

Gay has been indicted on fourteen charges stemming from the rampage. He had already been charged with first-degree murder for Overstreetís death when a grand jury released thirteen more charges on October 2. There are six counts of aggravated malicious wounding, six counts of using a firearm in the commission of malicious wounding, and one count of shooting into an occupied building.

Some of the charges may have to be changed, however, if the prosecutors cannot prove permanent and significant physical impairment to the victims, a requirement for malicious wounding convictions under Virginia law.

In addition to Overstreet and Webb, John Collins was shot in the abdomen and lost parts of both intestines. He has to wear a colostomy bag at least until surgeons attempt to repair the damage, in three months.

Susan Smith was shot in the leg, with the bullet exiting through her buttock, while Linda Conyers was shot in the arm and hand. Joel Tucker took a bullet in the small of the back, and Kathy Caldwell was hit in her right shoulder and left hand.

Overstreetís funeral was well-attended, as were candlelight vigils across the country.

Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kansas, who has made a career of picketing noisily at the funerals of gay men, did not appear as he had announced. One of Phelpsí daughters said she had advised her father not to go, fearing that Roanoke police would not protect him and his followers, mostly members of his extended family.

Gay, who was born in Canada and moved to the U.S. decades ago, was a Marine in Vietnam, and has since drifted from city to city, leaving a trail of failed marriages.

Gayís preliminary hearing is set for October 16, and his trial is tentatively set for January.

Associated Press

 


 

Under starry skies, one more ride
on a roller coaster

by L. Dale Arant
and Brian DeWitt

CincinnatióFun-seekers from New York, South Carolina, and as far away as Germany joined a crowd of 3,500 to enjoy Gay and Lesbian Pride Night at Kings Island amusement park.

A group of partyers strike a ďCharlieís AngelsĒ
pose at the fourth annual Kings Island Pride Night
.

 

The park, just north of the city, was closed to the public for the Cincinnati Gay and Lesbian Centerís fourth annual benefit there, on the evening of September 22.

Between rides on everything from the Son of Beast roller coaster to an 1890s carousel, crowds enjoyed entertainment at the outdoor International Showplace and the indoor Festhaus. The Showplace, new this year, featured the Tigerlilies, Just the Band and Michelle Malone. Inside the Festhaus was Columbusí H.I.S. Kings drag king troupe, the Cincinnati Cast and Big Bobís Karaoke.

Pride Night at Kings Island is the centerís largest fundraiser of the year, and each year has been more successful than the one before. About 2,600 attended in 1998, and 3,400 last year.

The event raised about $20,000, said coordinator LeAnn Dessauer. She added that the figure may rise as they receive ticket proceeds from vendors in other cities.

Pride Night is part of a tradition begun 17 years ago with Gay Day, the first Sunday in June when gays and lesbians go to Kings Island wearing red or rainbow colors. The park is open to the public as usual that day.

For Pride Night in September, the park is open only to people buying tickets through the Cincinnati Gay and Lesbian Center or its vendors.

Though this yearís Pride Night, as in the past, was threatened with protest by anti-gay groups, none materialized.

A boycott of the event was threatened because Paramount, which owns Kings Island, is also producing the "Dr. Laura" TV show. Park management, in a statement, said that the amusement park is entirely separate from Paramountís television division, and that Kings Island and its staff have nothing to do with the anti-gay radio hostís TV show.

Robin Maxim, account manager and liaison for Pride Night, said that the event was completely without incident. She added that it ran more smoothly than an average day when the park is open to the general public.


22 candidates pitch their case to
Akron gay and lesbian voters

by Eric Resnick

Akron--Twenty two candidates, incumbents and challengers, seeking office in Summit, Stark, Portage, and Medina counties, pitched their case to Stonewall Akron on Tuesday, October 3 at the University of Akron Martin Center.

Candidates seeking legislative, judicial, and executive offices talked about accountability, environmental concerns, taxes, and matters of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender equality.

The forum was preceded by a social gathering where candidates met voters informally. Following the formal presentation, candidates answered questions from the floor.

Summit County Common Pleas Judge Patricia Cosgrove told the audience about an anti-gay hate crime case she prosecuted in the 1980s, while John Quinn, a magistrate in domestic relations court seeking election to the Ninth District Court of Appeals, discussed his experience hearing cases concerning same-sex couples.

State Rep. Ann Womer Benjamin, a Portage County Republican who chairs the Ohio House Criminal Justice Committee, told the audience she "doesnít think the time has come this year" for passing State Rep. Joyce Beattyís hate crime bill that includes sexual orientation and gender.

That bill is currently stalled in Womer Benjaminís committee. She suggested that the reason for that lies with Beatty.

"The sponsor hasnít done the work that needs to be done," she said, promising to consider the bill next year.

Before the program began, Stonewall Akron president Paul Schwitzgebel admonished the candidates that although nearly sixty people were present, a similar number gay people avoid this event due to the possibility of publicity, causing some of them to lose their jobs. Schwitzgebel challenged all the candidates to work toward eliminating those fears by what they did in their public life.

Stonewall Akron released a voters guide in conjunction with the event which is available in businesses and the Akron Pride Center ,and will soon be on their web site, www.rainbow- akron.com/stonewall.|


Student is killed in dorm, another student is charged

 

Washington, D.C.óA gay Gallaudet University freshman was found beaten to death in his dorm room September 28, and police have arrested another student.

But police are tight-lipped about a motive in the case, except to say that they are not investigating the possibility of hate crime.

Eric Franklin Plunkett, of Burnsville, Minn., was found in his dormitory room after a student asked a school official to check on him when he had not been seen for more than a day. Police say Plunkett appeared to have died of blows to the head.

Plunkett, 19, was secretary of the gay and lesbian Lambda Society at Gallaudet, the nationís only university for deaf and hearing-impaired students.

Police arrested Thomas Minch, 18, four days later on October 2. Minch, also a freshman at Gallaudet from Greenland, N.J., was charged with second-degree murder.

Police said the men had a personal dispute that erupted in a physical fight that led to Plunkettís death.

Preliminary evidence suggests that a chair in the room was the weapon used to kill Plunkett, but more tests are being conducted on it.

Police also wonít discuss motive in the slaying or whether Plunkettís involvement in the Lambda Society was a factor.

Minch and Plunkett have been described as close friends. The two attended a camp for the deaf together in 1996.

Nevertheless, students have expressed concerns about a recent increase in anti-gay activities on campus. Several gay students were targets of disparaging comments in the days before Plunkettís death, and anti-gay slurs have been found on memo boards, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a gay and lesbian political organization that met October 2 with five students and faculty members at Gallaudet.

The day after the murder was discovered, a student reported seeing another say in sign language, "Good, one less fag."

Gallaudet was established by Congress in 1864 and is the nationís only liberal arts university for the deaf and hearing-impaired. It has about 2,000 students.|

Associated Press

Army denies momís claim in death of beaten soldier

by Eric Resnick

Washington, D.C.--The Army has denied the wrongful death claim brought by the mother of Pfc. Barry Winchell, 21, who was murdered at Fort Campbell, Kentucky by members of his own unit because he was believed to be gay.

The July, 1999 murder brought the "donít ask, donít tell" military policy and the harassment faced by lesbian and gay servicemembers to the point of national discussion. This was partly because of its brutalityóWinchell was beaten with a baseball bat as he slept--and also because of the Armyís attempt to cover it up.

Winchellís mother, Pat Kutteles of Kansas City, Missouri, filed a wrongful death suit against the Army under the Military Claims Act on April 26, alleging that the Army knew of anti-gay harassment her son had faced, but did nothing to stop it.

The suit also said that the Army did nothing to stop the underage drinking that contributed to her sonís death, and did not have 911 service in the barracks.

The Military Claims Act is usually used by families of servicemembers killed by friendly fire or accident. Kutteles was the first to use it in a murder.

Kuttelesí suit sought $1.79 million in damages, representing Winchellís potential lost earnings and conscious pain and suffering from the time he was beaten to the time he slipped into a coma.

Kutteles has always maintained that the suit was filed to hold the military accountable for her sonís death so it would not happen again. Claims under the act are handled administratively, ruled on by Army officials.

The Army notified Kutteles of their decision with a brief letter September 27 expressing the Armyís condolences for the death of Winchell, but denying the claim.

The letter, signed by chief tort claims officer Col. John Helser, told Kutteles the Army denied her claim on procedural grounds, saying she should have brought the claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act instead.

The Federal Tort Claims Act is usually used by civilians for damages caused by the federal government.

Kuttelesí attorney, Adam Pachter, called the decision, "just plain wrong," saying that the Army chose an easy way to dismiss the case without addressing the facts.

"If you can resolve a matter on procedural grounds, you donít need to address its merit," he said.

At the time of the filing, Pachter said that the Military Claims Act was the most appropriate place to file this claim, because of the reluctance of civilian courts to hear military matters that military courts have not tried to resolve first.

But the letter also says the Army took it upon itself to also consider the case under the Federal Tort Claims Act, and denied it there, too, citing the Supreme Court ruling Feres v. United States.

"The Supreme Court recognized the unique and special relationship between and among soldiers that is so crucial to a trained and ready Army," the letter reads, "and the adverse consequences that procedings under the FTCA would have on our military. The Supreme Court has also held specifically that claims of negligent supervision and discipline involving a servicememberís murder are outside the scope of the FTCA."

Pachter says the Army misapplied the Feres Docrtine. "The Feres Doctrine is not applicable here because it can only be applied to judicial proceedings and the Military Claims Act is an administrative proceeding," he said. "If the Army was correct about this decision, it would render the Military Claims Act a nullity. But it is not a nullity. It is a federal law."

Pachter maintains that the evidence against the Army in this case is overwhelming and came from, among other places, the court martials of Winchellís killers, Pvt. Calvin Glover and Spc. Justin Fisher.

Glover, who beat Winchell to death, is serving life in prison. Fisher, Winchellís roommate who helped Glover dispose of bloody clothing, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and lying to investigators and is serving 12Ĺ years.

Pachter said this ruling was another step in an ongoing matter and that neither he nor Kutteles would be deterred from getting the Army to take responsibility for its actions.

Kutteles is angry that the Army did not even consider the merits of the case before dismissing it, but she was not surprised by the ruling.

"Theyíre looking for ways to dodge the whole thing," she said, calling the Armyís public promises to her to take responsibility for Winchellís death "statements only."

Michele Beneke, co-director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a Washington group that monitors "donít ask, donít tell," said Kutteles deserved a substantive response to her complaint.

Beneke was most surprised that even though much of the Armyís wrongdoing has been made public, they are still in denial.

"It is surprising that no effort was made to address the substantive allegations in this complaint," she said.

Kutteles hopes that Army Secretary Louis Caldera, who admitted at a news conference that the Army has had trouble implementing "donít ask, donít tell" and acknowledged anti-gay harassment, will see fit to consider the merit of her claim when he hears it on appeal.

Kutteles has 60 days to appeal the ruling to Caldera, who will give the Armyís final decision on the matter.

Kutteles and Pachter acknowledge that the Secretary of the Army is a political appointment influenced by the national election.

"But after January, we will have the option of federal court or congressional action if we need it," said Pachter.|


Interview with Keith Boykin

by Anthony Glassman

Akron--The annual Out in Akron festival is next weekend, and a highlight of the event will be Keith Boykinís Saturday forum.

Boykin, whose books Respecting the Soul: Daily Reflections for Black Lesbians and Gays and One More River to Cross: Black and Gay in America have established him as one of the leading authorities on LGBT people of color in the United States, comes with an impressive list of credentials. An adjunct professor of government at American University, a Harvard-educated lawyer, and a special assistant to President Clinton, Boykin will share stories of his life and pieces from his books at 2 pm October 14 at the Highland Theater.

Anthony Glassman: What do you think are the biggest difficulties facing lesbian and gay people of color, as opposed to Jewish or white LGBT people?

Keith Boykin: Well, it seems to me that perhaps the most important issue is the issue of self-esteem, and that plays itself out in part because of the role of the church and religion in convincing people they are less worthy of respect or of love because of their sexual orientation.

I think thatís a tremendous barrier, especially for African-Americans and Latinos that I know of, but probably for other people of color to a certain extent as well.

Q: Do you think the role of the church in the black community is healthy, considering the role of religion in the oppression of African-Americans in the era of slavery?

A: The black church is what Iím referring to when I say "the church," and the black church was not specifically used as a tool of oppression against African-Americans. The Bible was, and the same Bible that most African-American churches use as non-African-American churches, Christian churches use.

Iím not as terribly concerned about the role of the black church itself as much as the role of the black church on issues regarding sexuality. I think the black church has a long tradition of progressive activism and liberation theology that predates the modern movement. But when it comes to issues of homophobia, the black church still needs a lot of education in many instances and many places. Not everywhere, because there are some very open-minded and progressive-thinking African-American church congregations.

Not enough, and far too many black lesbians, gays, and bisexuals are going to these churches on a weekly basis, where they get beaten up, not physically but psychologically and spiritually, by their ministers and their congregations for simply being who they are. Unfortunately, itís even more dramatic and traumatic because the people who are beaten up often tend to believe the rhetoric of the beaters and the oppressors, and we have to fight that internalized homophobia as well as the externalized homophobia.

Q: Do you see anti-Semitism among leaders of the black community, most notably with Louis Farrakhan? Do you think this is a big problem, along with the homophobia and misogyny, in urban culture?

A: First, I would view the anti-Semitism, homophobia, misogyny, sexism, and all the other "isms" and biases endemic to the society as a whole, and not specific to or even more profound in the African-American community, in spite of what the popular rhetoric or conventional wisdom may suggest.

I think anti-Semitism among some black leaders is blown extremely out of proportion by the media and by, I suppose, those who have an interest in perpetuating that reputation or that myth. But, the reality is that African-American people are no more anti-Semitic than any other group of people, and no more homophobic than any other group of people.

What happens, however, is that whenever any African-American of note, regardless of whether they represent the community or not, makes a comment that is considered to be less than progressive, people jump on it and it immediately gets attention because itís a man bites the dog story instead of dog bites man story, which everyoneís familiar with.

In other words, there is this framework in which African-American people, because of our legacy of dealing with oppression, are so expected to be progressive on every issue, that whenever we are not progressive . . . it becomes a story in itself. That focus actually tends to mislead us into thinking that the problem is more of a concern for African-Americans than the rest of society.

In terms of homophobia specifically, I have done some research on this in the past twenty years. It seems to be that African-Americans are probably more progressive on gay and lesbian issues than any other community, any other racial or ethnic constituency or demographic groups.

Hereís why: First of all, all the polls that have been done over the past twenty years indicate that black people are more likely to support civil rights for lesbians and gays than are any other group of people.

Secondly, African-Americans tend to support in overwhelming numbers black elected officials, and other elected officials who are part of the Democratic Party for the most part, who are fairly or extremely progressive on issues of gay and lesbian rights.

Thirdly, most of the major African-American leaders, political leaders as well as civil rights leaders, are far out front in terms of acceptance of sexual orientation issues than other leaders in non-African-American communities. So you have people like Jesse Jackson and Coretta Scott King, all of whom come from the civil rights tradition, who are very, very progressive on issues of sexual orientation. All of them support ENDA, most of them support the right of gay and lesbian people to marry as well, far more progressive than the rest of society.

Finally, fourthly, in terms of political figures, the Congressional Black Caucus are the most progressive voting bloc in the House of Representatives on issues of sexual orientation, bar none--except the two-member openly gay caucus, of course. In terms of the rest of the racial and ethnic constituencies, there is no other group that is more supportive of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or the District of Columbiaís sovereignty on issues of needle exchange or domestic partnerships.

Issue after issue, the gay and lesbian community has been supported by the African-American political leadership, so I think thatís a myth that needs to be shattered, and hopefully over the course of time it will be.

Q: How big of a problem do you think homophobia and misogyny is in hip-hop culture?

A: Well, you know, I think the problem I have with isolating particular parts of a community or particular communities, is that it doesnít get us to the deeper issues. The deeper issue is that homophobia and misogyny are problems with society at large. Itís easy for us to point a finger at hip-hop culture, or hard rock/heavy metal music or television or this or that group of people who we think is responsible for perpetuating it.

The reality is that we all bear responsibility to take ownership of this issue and do something about it, all of these issues. Iím very skeptical of efforts to paint any specific group of people as being more responsible than others because what that does is it essentially allows other people to alleviate their own guilt. To point a finger at someone else implicitly takes the finger away from oneís self.

So Iím not really willing to say that hip-hop culture is responsible for, well, certainly itís not responsible for misogyny or homophobia, because those two problems in society, or social evils, far predate the hip-hop culture. Whether the hip-hop culture reflects some of those same problems that are reflected in the rest of society, thatís certainly true, and thatís really the issue, the fact that the rest of society is there too. So we have to be willing to be engaged on these issues on every front, not just on the fronts that are politically popular or get the most media attention.

Q: In our attempts to censor our foes, are we creating a victim culture?

A: I donít know exactly what you mean when you say victim culture, but I can tell you what I think. First of all, I fully support free speech. I think everyone has the right to say pretty much whatever he or she wants to say, including language that is racist, sexist, homophobic, misogynist, culturally imperialistic, xenophobic, or what have you.

Thatís part of what makes America, it seems to me, America, the idea that we donít selectively interpret which idea and which language is acceptable in public discourse. Having said that, I think itís also the responsibility of those who disagree with racism, sexism, homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia and the other curious social ills, to speak up and respond to it.

What happens it seems today, at least in the past twenty years, is that the right wing has created this whole mythology of political correctness and liberal orthodoxy, which essentially boils down to this: If I am conservative, I have the right to be conservative, and to speak conservatively, and to make offensive remarks, and I do not expect people to criticize me if I do so.

I find that unacceptable. So when the left wing responds to the conservative attacks, or to the racism, sexism, homophobia, and heterosexism and misogyny, the right immediately labels it "political correctness," that somehow youíre quelling free speech.

I disagree with that. I think in order to have a healthy exchange of ideas, all ideas need to be welcome at the table. I donít consider that to be the creation of a victim culture. Letís look at the reality, though. People are victimized in society, and theyíre victimized by both the outside cultures and by the internalization of those oppressions that theyíve experienced.

I certainly think that in order for us to empower ourselves, regardless of what disenfranchised group weíre a part of, we have to accept responsibility, personal responsibility. At the same time, we also should not let off the hook those who are responsible for systematic oppression or who are benefiting from that systematic oppression. To focus on one without the other will not provide a complete solution.

Q: Do you think the trend towards acceptance will continue, or do you think that another backswing of the pendulum will come? Do you think complete acceptance is possible?

A: I think the pendulum has already swung back. I donít think itís a completely steady progression in one direction or another. I think what happens is that the pendulum moves in one direction and then it swings back in the other direction.

Itís somewhat inevitable because with every advance by any group of people that had been previously disenfranchised, those who benefited from the disenfranchisement immediately respond with backlash. Thatís what weíve seen in the context of the African-American civil rights movement, that after years of making progress in terms of civil rights advances and legislation, there was a backlash from those who benefited from the previous system, the status quo. Or those who did not necessarily directly benefit from the past, but implicitly benefit today and were or still are unwilling to accept that privilege.

The same thing happens in the context of sexual orientation, no doubt, and is happening with the advances that have taken place in the past eight to ten years in that context in the past decade. Youíve seen the religious right has mobilized much more powerfully and strongly than ever before to respond to these issues of gay and lesbian empowerment.

The one thing that they donít want, more than anything else, is to have an empowered, strong LGBT community. But the one thing they do want more than anything else, is to have an empowered, strong LGBT community to a certain extent, because it enables them to marshal their forces together to raise money to support their activities, to essentially create this bogeyman out there who they can oppose. They need to have a villain, and a strong LGBT community easily becomes a villain, thus creating a backlash, thus creating a pendulum swing.

So the answer to all this is vigilance. As Thomas Jefferson said, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." Certainly, each of our communities has gained greater freedom, but with that comes the responsibility to be ever-vigilant in protecting that. Itís not going to stay this way just because something happened in the past, a law was passed in the past.

There has to be an aggressive effort on the part of people of color, on the part of the LGBT community, on the part of all people who have been disenfranchised, to make sure that the forces of the status quo or the perpetuation of the past donít reignite. We have to be ever-mindful of that.

Thatís the challenge: Not to rest on our laurels and become complacent, but to recognize the fact that there is still an opportunity and a responsibility to make change and to be active. Dr. King was fond of saying that time itself is neutral, and there he challenged whole notion that simply the passage of time would make things better, that civil rights laws would become a part of the legislative history of the United States or that Americans would become more tolerant.

None of that happened just because time passes. It only happens because a few committed people decide to stand up and do something to make it happen. Thatís an important distinction that needs to be drawn, that time itself doesnít make change happen, itís what we do with that time that makes things happen.

 


GOP is stalling hate crime bill, Clinton tells gay fundraiser

by Sonya Ross
Associated Press

Dallas--President Clinton accused Republican congressional leaders of deliberately ducking his long-languishing hate crime legislation because they fear it would split the GOPís base.

"If it doesnít get to be law, itís because the leadership doesnít want it," Clinton said during a September 27 luncheon fundraiser here with gay and lesbian Democrats. He noted that, in light of a spate of hate crimes in recent years, the bill is supported by more Americans and by a majority of lawmakers in both parties.

"There has been a sea-change movement," Clinton said. "More and more people are identifying with our common humanity. Increasingly, society is moving to higher and higher levels of decency and justice. Itís just a question of whether the leadership of the Republican Party in the Congress stays to the right of the country on this issue."

Clinton was in Texas to help raise money for his party and to attend a "Texas Tribute" in his honor. The three events he attended were meant to raise $1.5 million for Democratic candidates.

One of the guests at the $5,000-a-plate luncheon in Dallas, real estate agent Larry Pease, called the event "an empowering session," adding, "It was historic because never before in this country would a president sit down with such a small group of people that used to be considered a political liability, but now are a powerful voting bloc."

The luncheon was held in a private home in an affluent Dallas neighborhood.

About ten protesters from a group called Free Republic waved anti-Clinton placards on a sidewalk about a block away.

"We donít appreciated his lies, his perjury and his obstruction of justice," said Mari Thompson, who said the group was not there to protest gay civil rights.

Before leaving for Texas, Clinton said Congressí Republican leaders thwarted the hate crime bill because they are worried that its provisions covering gays and lesbians might anger the GOPís conservative core.

"I think they think it will split their base or something," Clinton said.

"I just hope and pray we can do it. If we canít do it, what does that Senate vote mean? Was it just some stunt?," he asked, referring to the Senateís 57-42 vote in June in favor of hate-crime provisions in a defense bill.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss, has said, however, that the provisions would be not part of the final version of the defense bill.

A spokesman for Lott denounced Clintonís remarks as "demagoguery at its worst."

"Pitting one group against another in order to gain personal electoral advantage is bad even for President Clinton," said Lott spokesman John Czwartacki said, adding that it "is certainly not our inclination" to put the bill to a vote.

The hate-crime bill would define crimes against lesbians and gays in much the same way as racially motivated crime.

The measure would add crimes motivated by sexual orientation, gender or disability to the list of offenses already covered under a 1968 federal law, and allow federal prosecutors to pursue a hate-crime case if local authorities refuse to press charges.

The legislation also provides assistance to local law enforcement agencies in investigating hate crimes.

 

 

 

 

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