WASHINGTON, DC -- Kerry Lobel, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), called Nov. 10's White House Summit on Hate Crimes, "a historic first step towards sounding a wake up call around the country about this very disturbing issue."
According to Lobel, "the initiatives the President announced today will help provide momentum and leverage for local individuals and organizations who deal with bias crimes, and their aftermath, on a daily basis." These initiatives include support for legislation that would give federal officials authority to prosecute bias crimes based on sexual orientation and setting up working groups on bias crimes headed by local US attorneys.
"And the fact that hate crimes based on sexual orientation was addressed at the Summit sends an important message to everyone that violence against gay,lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people is as repugnant as other bias crimes," she stated.
Lobel joined other civil rights and anti-violence leaders from around the country at the day-long Summit. At the invitation of the White House, she addressed a panel on coordinated community responses to bias crimes, focusing on those crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity. "Sadly, bias crimes continue to plague our country and, for the most part, they are invisible to all but those who are the targets of such crimes," remarked Lobel.
To show the President just how prevalent bias crimes against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons are, Lobel delivered over 700 petitions signed by individuals from communities throughout the country, including those cities which recently held town meetings on hate crimes that she attended. NGLTF co-sponsored these hate crimes forums in the midwest, the south and one in Alameda, California.
In the letter, Lobel notes that the petitions call on the President to take further steps, beyond the Summit, to forcefully and effectively address this problem. Specifically, the President is asked to (1) speak out more against hate crimes, including those based on sexual orientation or identity; (2) support legislative proposals to ensure that federal officials have the necessary tools to prosecute such bias crimes; (3) urge local law enforcement to effectively respond to hate crime survivors, to document hate crimes and report statistics to the FBI; and (4) initiate an aggressive, federally-led campaign against bias crimes to ensure the adequate training of law enforcement officials, dispute the rhetoric which makes bias crimes seem justified, and educate the public on the gravity of the issue.
Lobel recently completed a seven-city tour called "Hate in the Heartland," which was co-sponsored by NGLTF and local community organizations. "Every town I visited and every hate crime story we received shared similar themes," she told the White House. "As gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and questioning youth come to visibility, their school districts have been ill-equipped to counsel them or ensure their safety." Lobel told the President of several other bias crimes throughout the nation:
The Task Force executive director also told the President that about 32% of the people who shared their stories were the objects of bias crimes in grammar school, middle school and high school. If bias crimes in college settings are included, the total increases to 42% of incidents that occurred at an educational institution. Lobel characterized these figures as "disturbing and horrifying."
The letter to the President includes an attached "Summary and Excerpts of Hate Crime Stories," which talks about and quotes from, the troubling experiences of hate crimes shared by about 26% or about 180 individuals who sent in petitions to the President. The types of bias crimes people reported range from verbal harassment, attacks on property, physical threats and attacks and even murder.
"NGLTF looks forward to working with you and your Administration and our other civil rights allies to ensure that this White House Summit on Hate Crimes is only the first of many actions taken to effectively address bias crimes," Lobel concluded in the letter to President Clinton. For further information or for NGLTF reaction, please call Helen Gonzales, Public Policy Director, at 202-332-6483.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has worked to eliminate prejudice, violence and injustice against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people at the local, state and national level since its inception in 1973. As part of a broader social justice movement for freedom, justice and equality, NGLTF is creating a world that respects and celebrates the diversity of human expression and identity where all people may fully participate in society.