Republicans block hate crime law for LGBT people in Virginia
Republicans in Virginia have voted down a hate crime law that would have introduced basic protections for LGBT people.
Despite widespread support for LGBT equality, Virginia is one of more than 20 states that still has no hate crime law protecting people against crimes motivated by homophobia.
And the state’s Republican-controlled legislature is still working to block basic protections for LGBT people – decades after they became commonplace in other Western countries.
This week, Republicans shamefully voted down SB 112, which would have added disability, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation to the state’s definition of a hate crime.
The bill was blocked by a vote in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, in a 9-6 vote entirely along party lines.
The committee’s nine Republicans – state senators Ben Chafin, Ryan McDougle, Tommy Norment, Mark Obenshain, Mark Peake, Bryce Reeves, Bill Stanley, Richard Stuart and Glen Sturtevant – all voted against the law.
Meanwhile the six Democrats – Creigh Deeds, John Edwards, Janet Howell, Chap Petersen, Louise Lucas and Richard Saslaw voted for the bill.
Republicans hold power by a wafer-thin 21-19 majority in the state Senate and a 51-49 majority in the House of Delegates, despite Democrats winning 53% of the vote in last year’s House elections.
The GOP continues to resist the introduction of LGBT hate crime laws at the state level across much of the US.
In 2009 President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, aiming to afford some basic decency to victims of anti-LGBT crimes in states with no hate crime laws.
The law expanded the 1969 United States federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
Under the Act, the federal government is able to pursue charges in hate crime cases where there is no state-level protection.
It also gives federal authorities greater ability to engage in hate crimes investigations that local authorities choose not to pursue.
However, the lack of state-level laws can leave victims of hate crimes reliant on the federal government’s intervention to get justice.
In 1998, 21-year-old gay student Matthew Shepard was tortured and left for dead by two men in Laramie, Wyoming.
Mr Shepard’s death and the subsequent court case shocked America, leading to a push for hate crimes legislation spearheaded by his parents, Judy and Dennis.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions was a vicious opponent of the federal hate crime act.
Judy Shepard urged Senators to reject the appointment of Sessions.
She wrote: “We were fortunate to work alongside members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, who championed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act with the determination, compassion, and vision to match ours as the parents of a child targeted for simply wanting to be himself.
“Senator Jeff Sessions was not one of these members. In fact, Senator Sessions strongly opposed the hate crimes bill — characterizing hate crimes as mere ‘thought crimes’.
“Unfortunately, Senator Sessions believes that hatecrimes are, what he describes as, mere ‘thought crimes’.
“My son was not killed by ‘thoughts’ or because his murderers said hateful things. My son was brutally beaten my son with the butt of a .357 magnum pistol, tied him to a fence, and left him to die in freezing temperatures because he was gay. Senator Sessions’ repeated efforts to diminish the life-changing acts of violence covered by the Hate Crimes Prevention Act horrified me then, as a parent who knows the true cost of hate, and it terrifies me today to see that this same person is now being nominated as the country’s highest authority to represent justice and equal protection under the law for all Americans.
“As Attorney General, Senator Sessions would be responsible for not only enforcing the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, but a myriad of other civil rights laws including the Violence Against Women Act, which includes explicit protections for LGBTQ people.
“Senator Sessions’ very public record of hostility towards the LGBTQ community and federal legislation designed to protect vulnerable Americans, including the Voting Rights Act, makes it nearly impossible to believe that he will vigorously enforce statutes and ideas that he worked so hard to defeat.
“Over a career that spans more than 3 decades in public life Senator Sessions has forfeited opportunity after opportunity to stand up for people like my son Matt and has, instead, used his position of power to target them for increased discrimination and marginalization, thus encouraging violence and other acts deemed to be hate crimes.
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“Senator Sessions has also repeatedly opposed comprehensive immigration reform and was prevented from being confirmed as a federal judge thirty years ago based on racially offensive views.
“Over the years, Senator Sessions has consistently referred to same-sex relationships and LGBTQ people like Matt as ‘dangerous’, or as a ‘threat’ to our American way of life and our so called ‘traditional’ moral beliefs.
“Matt was raised to believe in equal rights and equal protection for all. As a freshman in college in North Carolina, he participated in protests against the racist, bigoted, homophobic attitudes of then Senator Jesse Helms.
“During his short life, Matt was always fighting to make life better for everyone. I am here today to carry on his legacy, to do what he would be doing if he were alive, to verbally protest against the types of attitude and prejudice that resulted in his death.
“Matt was many things, but he was not dangerous and he was not a threat. But, based on the record of his past actions, it is blatantly clear that placing Jeff Sessions in the position as the nation’s chief law enforcement official would be both.”