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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
September 23, 2005

Hate crime act passes House, but with a troubling bill

First federal measure to pass with gender identity included

Washington, D.C.--The House of Representatives approved a problematic bill on September 14 that includes hate crime protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act was amended onto the White House-supported Children's Safety Act of 2005 by Michigan Rep. John Conyers. The amendment was co-sponsored by Reps. Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, both of whom are out of the closet, as well as Republicans Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut.

The hate crime act adds sexual orientation, gender identity and disability to an existing federal law that includes crimes committed because of the victim�s race, religion or ethnic background.

It was approved on a 223 to 199 vote, with five Democrats opposing its addition and 30 Republicans endorsing it. The full Children�s Safety Act passed 371 to 52 in mid-afternoon.

Civil liberties advocates are wary of the larger bill, however. The measure requires all states to enact sexual offender databases with a wealth of information on them, including their car model. It requires felony offenders to be on the databases for life, misdemeanants for 20 years.

One part of the bill would remove federal court oversight for those convicted of sexual offenses against minors. Were someone convicted of such an offense, they would only be able to appeal to state courts. After those appeals were exhausted only the governor could intervene.

Some clauses in the bill could possibly be used to require anyone convicted of a crime that is sexual in nature to register as a sex offender. One definition for �serious sexual offense� in the bill is anything that the attorney general decides to include. Public lewdness, for instance, could be added to the list.

Public lewdness is used in many jurisdictions to prosecute men cruising in public parks or rest areas, even late at night or when nobody but undercover police officers can see them.

While hate crime bills including sexual orientation have passed the Senate in previous sessions, this marks the first time one has passed the House of Representatives.

It is also the first time any measure covering gender identity has passed either house of Congress. It had been believed by some LGBT organizations and supportive politicians that adding gender identity would torpedo a bill.

Frank was one of the politicians who believed that including transgendered people in a hate crime or equal rights bill would be too much for the right wing to allow.

�Bias crimes are disturbingly prevalent and pose a significant threat to the full participation of all Americans in our democratic society,� Conyers told activist John Aravosis� Americablog. �This legislation will make it easier for federal authorities to prosecute bias crimes by loosening the unduly rigid jurisdictional requirements under federal law, in the same was as the Church Arson Prevention Act.�

�In addition, the bill will provide [Department of Justice] assistance for prosecutions at the state and local level,� he continued. �As it is combined with the underlying Child Safety Act, I believe we have our best chance ever of passing this bill into law.�

The bill, after passing the House, was referred to the Senate, where it was sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

�Never before has the House of Representatives voted to protect transgender people in any way,� said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. �This proves that even in times of adversity for our community, when grassroots voices keep up the pressure on our elected officials, decency can prevail.�

�At least one chamber of Congress has finally made a statement that it is not acceptable to hurt or kill transgender people because of who we are,� said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. �This is a pivotal vote for transgender people who have been working diligently for years to educate Congress about transgender people and our lives.�

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