WASHINGTON - President Clinton last month endorsed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA), a bill to include sexual orientation, gender and disability in a major federal hate crimes law. The president voiced his support for the bipartisan measure at the first-ever White House Conference on Hate Crimes, where he listed the bill first among several initiatives his administration will pursue to get tougher on crimes motivated by hatred.
"The president is sending a message that we as a nation must get tough on all forms of bias crime," said Human Rights Campaign Executive Director Elizabeth Birch, who was among representatives of the gay community at the conference. "The Hate Crimes Prevention Act is critical because, when Americans are targeted for hate violence based on sexual orientation, gender or disability, the FBI should be able to investigate and prosecute - just as it is currently able to combat hate crimes based on religion, race and national origin. All hate crimes are pernicious, and they should all be punished accordingly."
Until the HCPA passes, hate crimes based on sexual orientation, gender and disability are not against federal law. Therefore, they cannot yet be investigated and prosecuted by the Justice Department the way other hate crimes are currently combated. The HCPA will soon be introduced in the U.S. Senate by its lead sponsors, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.
"The first thing we have to do is make sure our nation's laws fully protect all of it's citizens," said the president. "Our laws already punish some crimes committed against people on the basis of race, or religion or national origin, but we should do more. We should make our current laws tougher to include all hate crimes that cause physical harm. We must prohibit crimes committed because of a victim's sexual orientation, gender or disability. All Americans deserve protection from hate."
According to the FBI, reported hate crimes based on sexual orientation are on the rise, accounting for 12.8 percent of such incidents in 1995 - up from 8.9 percent in 1991. The FBI has found that hate crimes based on sexual orientation are already the third most commonly reported form of bias crime. Still, sexual orientation remains excluded from the major federal hate crimes laws as well as the hate crimes statutes of 30 states.
When the Hate Crimes Prevention Act passes, it will apply to people victimized because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender or disability - thereby offering equal protection to lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and heterosexuals; transgendered Americans; women as well as men; and Americans with disabilities.
The conference, convened by the president and held at George Washington University, brought together some 350 representatives from law enforcement, civil rights, anti-violence, youth, education and religious groups - including organizations combating anti-gay hate violence. Among the representatives of the lesbian and gay community participating in the conference were Birch, HRC Senior Policy Advocate Kris Pratt and leaders from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs; National Youth Advocacy Coalition; Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network; and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.