Hate crimes bill falls victim to GOP leadership

WASHINGTON -- The Republican leadership today allowed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA) to be removed from the Commerce, State, Justice appropriations bill- dimming chances that federal hate crimes legislation will be enacted this year.

The GOP's thwarting of this key legislation at a time when hate crimes are on the rise shows a callous disregard towards hate crime victims and their families, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

"Today's action showed a callous disregard for hate crime victims and their families," said HRC Executive Director Elizabeth Birch. "Apparently, the GOP leadership learned nothing from the recent wave of hate crimes that have rocked our nation. This unconscionable action is a cynical betrayal of the American people who demand a safer society where they are not menaced by violent haters."

The GOP's thwarting of this legislation comes just as the FBI released new statistics yesterday showing a rise in hate crimes against gay and lesbian Americans. According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports for 1998-the latest year for available statistics-hate crimes based on sexual orientation increased 12.5 percent from 1997 to 1998. Hate crimes based on sexual orientation have nearly tripled since the FBI began collecting statistics in 1991, comprising 16 percent of all hate crimes for 1998 at 1,260. This is particularly disturbing since the number of reporting agencies for 1998 decreased from 11,211 to 10, 461, with two fewer states reporting, as well.

Hate crimes based on sexual orientation continue to make up the third highest category of those reported to the FBI after race and religion. In July, the Senate passed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act for the first time as part of the Commerce, State, Justice appropriations bill. The House version of the bill did not include HCPA. The GOP leadership omitted the HCPA legislation in conference, where a compromise between the House and Senate versions of the Commerce, State, Justice bill was crafted.

To support the HCPA, HRC launched a paid advertising campaign that first aired in Washington this week on Sunday's public affairs shows.

"White supremacists tie a black man to their truck and drag him to his death," the announcer reads in the ad. "A gay college student is savagely beaten and tied to a fence and left to die. Seven evangelical Christians, one of them a fourteen year old girl, are shot to death in a Fort Worth Baptist church. Republican leaders in Congress refuse to support hate crimes legislation that could help law enforcement stop this violence. Why? Because they don't think gay people should be protected. Let's act with real compassion. Call Congress today and tell them to pass the Hate Crimes Prevention Act."

The GOP's move ignores overwhelming public support for hate crime legislation. A February 1999 Gallup poll showed that 70 percent of Americans are in favor of tougher hate crime laws.

Since 1998-when an African American, James Byrd Jr., was tied to the back of a truck and dragged to death by white supremacists in Jasper, Texas-several high-profile hate crimes have shocked our country. Last week was the one-year anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, the University of Wyoming student who was beaten and tied to a fence to die because he was gay.

The HCPA would extend current federal hate crimes protection -- which covers race, religion, color and national origin-to gender, sexual orientation and disability. HCPA would serve as a tool to help law enforcement by allowing federal assistance, when necessary, in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes. HCPA has broad support from notable law enforcement agencies and state and local leaders including 22 state attorneys general, the Police Foundation and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act has strong support from President who has made passage a priority.

The Human Rights Campaign is the largest national lesbian and gay political organization, 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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