AG Herring, legislators and advocates unite to pass inclusive hate crime legislation in Virginia
Virginia’s hate crime law currently lacks protections for LGBTQ citizens, but State Attorney General Mark Herring, armed with elected officials in the House and Senate, as well as members of the LGBTQ community hoping to change that.
In a public event at Northern Virginia’s ADAMS Center today, Herring and advocates joined to explain why expanding state law to make sure those who commit crimes agianst LGBTQs face similar harsh penalties to those who attack someone cause of their race, religion or nation of origin.
“No Virginian should be singled out for abuse, harassment, or mistreatment because of who they are, what they look like, how they worship, where they come from, or whom they love,” said AG Herring in a statement announcing the initiative. ”Hate crimes violate the civil liberties of victims and are contrary to the very founding principles of our Commonwealth and our country.I want every Virginian to know that I will always stand up for them and their right to live, work, worship, and love without fear, harassment, or discrimination.”
The push for expansion includes HB 1702, submitted by Del. Richard C. “Rip” Sullivan, Jr. (D – 48), and a yet-to-be-submitted bill by Sen. Senator Barbara Favola (31 -D).
Sullivans bill adds “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the law. It also “ requires the reporting of the commission of such crime to the State Police.”
“The words we use in the Code of Virginia ought to reflect the values of Virginians,” said Del. Rip Sullivan (48th District.) ”The Virginia State Police already collects data on hate crimes committed against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and reports that data to the FBI. Sadly, those numbers are on the rise. This bill simply codifies what we already do. It gives additional support to the State Police who continue to protect all Virginians from hate crimes. I commend Attorney General Herring for spearheading this much-needed initiative.”
Hate crime legislation is a complicated issue among the LGBTQ community. What started and currently exists as a federal system of increased punishment for hate-motivated crimes does not actually require reporting by police departments. In 2015, only 17% of Virginia’s police departments reported hate crimes to federal agencies. While the FBI releases national and state level statistics annually, they are considering incomplete because of this under reporting.
Then there is also concern around those who commit them. Some advocates believe people of color and those from depressed economic backgrounds are disproportionately convicted of these crimes and the “hate” that inspires them is often rooted in economic and educational disparity.
But moves like this aim to bring LGBTQ folks into the fold and recognize them as a class that still faces additional violence and persecution for an unavoidable, national born characteristic.
For folks like the unnamed victim of such a crime at a Chesterfield Amazon Facility committed almost three years ago, an inclusive law could have saved him the hardship he continues to face. Despite involvement from the national Department of Justice, the crime remains un-prosecuted despite a confession from the assailant.
“Every hour, a crime motivated by the perpetrator’s bias against the victim occurs in the United States, and Virginia is not immune to such acts,” said James Parrish, Executive Director of Equality Virginia, the state’s leading LGBTQ advocacy group. “Expanding hate crime laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity sends a message that violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people isn’t okay. Anti-gay hate crimes are the third most frequent kind of hate crimes in America and there is, however, overwhelming public support for inclusive hate crimes laws.”
Attempts to expand Virginia’s hate crime laws have stumbled and failed in the GA in the past. Sullivan submitted HB 35 during the 2016 session which was killed via an archaic House maneuver which allows leaders to send bills to the Codes Comission instead of getting a proper vote. Known as a legislative graveyard, a similar move was used in the 80′s to bury HIV/AIDS related bills to avoid having to address the issues.
On the other side of the hate crime expansion coin lies HB1389 which aims to add police officers to the list. Advocacy groups have questioned the need for such legislation as attacking an officers in or out of uniform is already is a Class 6 felony assault.
“Even if another legislator introduces this same bill with LGBT inclusive language, we will continue to say that the public safety reporting provisions are unnecessary, politically motivated and divisive and can only drive a deeper wedge between police officers and the communities they serve.” Clair Guthrie Gastanaga, Executive Director of the VA ACLU, told GayRVA when the “blue lives matter” bill was announced.
Herring has been advocating for LGBTQ issues since he took office as Virginia AG in 2014. He refused to defend the state’s debunked ban on same-sex marriage and has written amicus briefs in support of Gavin Grimm, the transgender teen who is heading to the Supreme Court over his school districts transphobic bathroom policy.
GayRVA will follow this bill and others impacting the LGBTQ community as the 2017 legislative session continues in the coming weeks.
“I’m not letting his misogyny define me, define my daughter or define my community.”April 21, 2017
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