Washington, D.C. -- The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), an alliance of 26 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender anti-violence organizations, joined politicians, activists and other anti-violence and human justice organizations to support the reintroduction of the national Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
As President Clinton stated in his State of the Union address on January 19, 1999, "Ěthe discrimination gap has not been fully closed Discrimination or violence because of race or religion, ancestry or gender, disability or sexual orientation is wrong. And it ought to be illegal."
The President concluded by asking Congress to make the "Hate Crimes Prevention Act the law of the land."
Today's brave action on the part of the 106th Congress to reintroduce a national bill condemning and prohibiting bias-related violence comes at a particularly critical moment for the nation's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Only a few months after Matthew Shepard, a 21-year old University of Wyoming student, was brutally beaten and left for dead in a deserted field in Laramie, Wyoming, the community continues to reel from an ongoing series of anti-gay murders and violence.
On February 19th in rural Alabama, Billy Jack Gaither was kidnapped and repeatedly and brutally bludgeoned to death. His body was then placed on a pyre of burning tires by his assailants, who later admitted to killing Mr. Gaither "because he was homosexual."
In Richmond, Virginia on March 1st, another gay man, Henry Edward Northington's severed head was found on a footbridge in James River Park, a popular meeting spot for gay people. His body was found later that same day almost a mile away in the James River. His head had been carried up a hill from the riverbank, and some locals fear that it was placed there as a warning to the community.
In February in New York City, one gay man, Troy Hoskins was found stabbed to death in his Washington Heights apartment. Another is still in a coma, weeks after being bludgeoned in his Chelsea apartment.
In Hartford, Connecticut on March 4th, Rev. Thomas E. Otte was found in his apartment, naked with multiple stab wounds. His wife had recently died and he'd been become increasingly open about his gay identity.
A continuing and disturbing series of murders in Texas has targeted the transgender community there: in Austin in early January, Donald Fuller, also known as Lauryn Paige died from multiple stab wounds in Austin. In Houston, on February 6th, Steve Dwayne Garcia was shot to death. On February 24th, an unidentified person of transgender experience was found dead in a motel parking lot, also in Houston. He had been shot several times.
"Any of these incidents in and of themselves would be absolutely troubling," stated Richard Haymes, executive director of the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, and member of NCAVP. "However, all of these taken together is horrifying, and speaks to a severe increase in anti-gay bias - hate now all too easily turns to violence, and that violence all too often results in murder. That these murders occurred in seeming isolation from each other indicates a wide-spread trend in anti-gay hate across the country."
NCAVP, which publishes an annual report on violence in the LGBT community, has documented a dramatic increase in anti-gay murders in 1998. The report, Violence Against Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexuals and Transgender People in 1998 will be publicly released April 6, 1999, the first day of the Matthew Shepard murder trial.
Jeffrey Montgomery, executive director of Detroit's Triangle Foundation, and also a member of NCAVP stated that "Preliminarily we have found that while overall incidents may be slightly down in 1998, anti-gay assaults, injuries and murders are up significantly over the previous year." Montgomery continued, "Today, Congress has demonstrated how swiftly government can move forward to do the right thing when there is the political will to do so. Passage of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act is critical now because the last thing we want to see is this trend continue or gain momentum either locally or nationally in 1999"
Haymes concurred, "It is time to put partisan politics aside and do the right thing. We need to remember that recently publicized hate crimes, such as the dragging death of James Byrd, an African-American man in Jasper, Texas, and the crucifixion of Matthew Shepard are essentially one and the same bias crime. Each is a senseless act of horrendous violence against an individual, not because of anything they've done, but just because of who they are or are perceived to be. These acts are intended to hurt the targeted victim and send a clear terrorist message of hate to the entire community."
"Every day Americans continue to live without the protection of Hate Crimes legislation sends a tacit endorsement of these heinous crimes. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act would deliver a clear message of zero tolerance for hate-related violence in all its forms" Montgomery concluded.