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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
April 6, 2007

Hate crime law is HRC's
top focus this year

Cleveland--The Human Rights Campaign’s “number one priority for this Congress” is to pass the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crime Prevention Act of 2007, which allows local police to investigate and prosecute violent crime motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability.

Currently, no federal law provides for prosecution of hate crime with those biases and neither do most state laws, including Ohio’s.

The new measure, introduced March 20 in the House, would add the categories to the existing federal hate crime law, which covers religion, race and national origin.

HRC national field director Marty Rouse delivered that message to a sold out crowd of 630 at the group’s Cleveland fundraising dinner March 31. It was the 14th Cleveland dinner and the largest to date.

HRC lobbies Congress for LGBT-affirming legislation, and its political action committee helps elect candidates that will vote on their behalf.

Rouse said that HRC’s second legislative priority is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would protect all employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Sixty percent of Americans think you should be judged by the job you do, not who you are,” said Rouse. “Still, to pass ENDA, it’s going to take all hands on deck.”

Rouse explained that it will take “thousands of e-mails and post cards” especially to those lawmakers identified as “persuadeable targets,” or ones who could vote either way.

“There are three targets in Ohio,” Rouse said. Later, he identified the three as first-term Democrat Zack Space of Dover, and Republicans David Hobson of Springfield and Pat Tiberi of suburban Columbus.

Asked why, with a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, ENDA is expected to be so hard to pass, Rouse said, “[Lawmakers] are uncomfortable with it. We expect it could be a wedge issue again closer to the national election that could be used against candidates in a close race.”

Rouse also said that even though the congressional leadership changed from Republicans to Democrats, “the make up of the Congress has not changed much.”

“The conservative Republicans are still there,” said Rouse, “and some of the new Democrats are very conservative on social issues.”

Rouse said other pieces of LGBT-affirming legislation, such as a measure introduced last week to end taxation of domestic partner benefits, can be passed as amendments to other bills throughout the year.

In states with both types of laws in effect, the hate crime law nearly always passed first.

Dinner co-chair Eric Lozier said that silent and live auctions at the event raised more than $25,000. The host Intercontinental Hotel had not submitted its bill by press time, but typically the entire affair raises more than $100,000 for HRC operations.

At separate HRC Federal Club events, seven new members joined and one new major donor was recruited. Federal Club members contribute from $1,200 to $4,999 a year. Major donors start at $5,000.

Post dinner entertainment was provided by lesbian comedian Suzanne Westenhoefer.

The event was emceed by Hollywood comedy writer Bruce Vilanch, who said that being there reminded him of old cruising grounds when he was performing in Cleveland with Bette Midler in the 1970s.

Afterward, Vilanch commented on the current state of LGBT celebrities--mostly the ones who remain closeted.

“It’s a fantasy business,” said Vilanch, adding that men who think of themselves as “leading men” and going after roles where they kiss the girl, are not likely to come out.

“The audience needs to believe them,” Vilanch said.

“That’s why it won’t be entertainment, but sports that will overthrow its conventions about gay people first,” Vilanch said.

Vilanch, who has always been out, said, “I’m lucky. I’m flamboyant in a job where being eccentric is rewarded, so I have made it a part of my personality.”

Newly elected officials came to the dinner to thank HRC for its support.

“[Governor] Ted Strickland and I would not have won without the early support of HRC,” said Ohio Lt. Governor Lee Fisher. “We will never forget it.”

A similar message was given by Sen. Sherrod Brown in a video feed.

Other elected officials at the dinner included first term U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton of Akron, State Sen. Dale Miller, and State Reps. Armond Budish, Timothy DeGeeter and Chris Redfern, who is also Ohio Democratic Party chair.

The city of Cleveland was represented by Mayor Frank Jackson, Council President Martin Sweeney, council members Joe Cimperman, Jay Westbrook, Matthew Zone, and gay council member Joe Santiago. With them was Cleveland council clerk Emily Lipovan.

The city of Lakewood was represented by council members Mary Louise Madigan and openly lesbian Nickie Antonio.

Mayor Dean DePiero of Parma attended, as did Eighth District Court of Appeals Judge Melody Stewart, and Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judges Stuart Friedman, Brian Corrigan and Bridget McCafferty.

The Leadership Award was presented to Patrick Shepherd of Cleveland.

Shepherd is the immediate past president and founder of the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats. He is also an organizer of the National Stonewall Democrats.

Shepherd is the associate director of the Cleveland Film Society, which he described as a very gay place to work, consisting of gay men and straight women.

“So, when a cute guy is spotted in Ohio City, everyone goes to the window,” Shepherd said.

“But we’re in a civil rights struggle for people not quite as lucky as I am,” Shepherd said.

“This year we sent [former U.S. Senator] Mike DeWine with his HRC scorecard rating of 11 to unemployment in Cincinnati,” Shepherd said.

“Do you know what George Voinovich’s rating is?” Shepherd asked the crowd. “It’s zero.”

“We have three years to ensure that George Voinovich can pack his bags and return to Collinwood,” Shepherd concluded.

Lozier concluded, “[The 2007 dinner] gives the Cleveland steering committee a challenge to raise the bar again in 2008.”

 

 

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