Gay/lesbian law enforcement concerns discussed with Reno

WASHINGTON -- Several key civil rights leaders met on Monday with Attorney General Janet Reno to discuss the often strained relationship between law enforce-ment and minorities. The meeting offered participants an opportunity to address key concerns including how law enforcement can better serve gay and lesbian Americans.

"The modern gay rights movement erupted out of a pattern of police brutality and misconduct," said HRC Executive Director Elizabeth Birch who attended the meeting. "While we have seen improvement in our community's relationship with the police in recent years, gay people still seem to be singled out for systematic en-trapment. We are hopeful that our relationship will continue to evolve and an at-mosphere of mutual trust will be fostered."

At the meeting, Birch urged police departments to create a police force which re-flects America's diversity and includes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered police officers. Birch also placed an emphasis on improving relations through sen-sitivity training and education.

"All integrity and ethics training should be expanded to include sexual orienta-tion," said Birch. "Training should be available throughout the country and throughout a police officer's career."

Also attending the meeting were Rev. Jesse Jackson, Kweisi Mfume of the NAACP, Hugh Price of the Urban League, Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Karen Narasaki of the National Asian Pacific America Legal Consortium, Charles Kamasaki of the National Council of La Raza, Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder and acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Bill Lann Lee.

Hate crimes were a prime topic of discussion for all meeting participants. While crime has decreased throughout America, hate crimes are still occurring at an alarming rate. Since 1991, hate crimes have nearly doubled. In 1997-- the FBI's most recent reporting period -- race-related hate crimes were by far the most com-mon, representing nearly 60 percent of all cases. Hate crimes based on religion rep-resented 15 percent of all cases.

Fear of ostracization by unsympathetic police officers often leads to underre-porting of hate crimes based on sexual orientation. Despite this obstacle to accurate reporting, hate crimes against gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans increased by 8 percent -- representing about 14 percent of all hate crimes reported.

The meeting followed President Bill Clinton's Saturday radio address where he said he wanted to, "strengthen the bond of trust between police officers and the communities they serve, and make our streets safer than ever."

The Human Rights Campaign is the largest national lesbian and gay political or-ganization, with members throughout the country. It effectively lobbies Congress, provides campaign support and educates the public to ensure that lesbian and gay Americans can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.

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