Hate crimes

Too many people die because prejudice and fear take such deep hold of individuals, and because society repeatedly sends the message that it does not care equally about all its members.

The appalling police (non)response in this case has many of us thinking about hate crimes legislation. Whatever your feelings about taking into account motivation when sentencing a criminal, this case suggests another reason to sometimes give federal authorities jurisdiction for local crimes. As much as we need to trust our police officers to investigate impartially—whether the victim is an investment banker or a sex worker, a white person or a person of color, etc—can we always trust them to do so? Putting the FBI in charge of cases where bias runs deepest ensures full and fair treatment of these cases, but does it also suggest, even allow, that partiality and bias to exist within our local law enforcement agencies?

I do not know whether hate crimes legislation is the best way to go. I do know, however, that hate crimes legislation already exists in various forms, and discrepancies within those forms ought to be addressed. Hate crime statistics are gathered where the victims’ actual or perceived race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation partially or wholly motivates the criminal. Based on 1968 law, the FBI is authorized to investigate hate crimes based on race, religion and ethnic origin. At present, “limitations in federal statutes prevent the FBI from investigating crimes of bias motivated solely by gender, disability, or sexual orientation.” (source) HR 1592, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLEHCPA) sponsored by John Conyers (D-MI) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), would extend that investigational authority to crimes based on gender, sexual orientation, disability and gender identity. (Note that this would include misogyny and misandry, not just hatred of folks who are transgender or gender variant)

Will hate crimes one day expand to include other broad categories of people? Class and socioeconomic status? Profession? Criminal status? Age? How can the FBI recognize the compounded, interactive status of these identity groups in hate crimes (the confusion between perceived gender performance and sexual orientation being only one very obvious example) What differentiates personal hatred from the manifestation of societal hate? It seems to me that hate crimes legislation seeks, in part, to affirm that society does care about the lives of even those with controversial identities or affiliations. At the same time, it calls out (confirms) these sources of difference and dispute.

It is a time to be sad and concerned. Yet we draw strength from the positive responses, by individuals and society, to these devastating tragedies. From productive legal responses to the increasing creation of and popularity of films telling the true stories of our losses and bringing to light the very human suffering involved (award-winning Boys Don’t Cry and Lifetime TV’s A Girl Like Me: the Gwen Araujo Story both come to mind).

Least we think, however, that all transfolk tales are stories of victimization and abuse. I leave you with a few reminders. Popular films do not solely mourn our losses, but they also celebrate our lives and proclaim our victories with comedy, family drama and documentary. A few examples from 90s through today The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, The Birdcage, Transamerica, and TransGeneration. Bit by bit, we are becoming more whole and real in our onscreen gender representations.

Last fall Kim Coco Iwamoto became the transgender person with the highest-ranking elected office in the USA. Her post to the Hawaii Board of Education is particularly nifty when you consider Americans’ tendency to be especially protective of their children and especially confrontational around said children’s education. However, while Kim Coco is out and proud to her friends and family, the issue was not raised publicly during her campaign and has only created a media stir since. Stay tuned to continuing reactions as she serves the education system in this role. Here Hawaiians have a great opportunity to be welcoming and affirming pioneers. And maybe, just maybe, we won’t see a repeat of the 1990s when the people responded to a Hawaiian Supreme Court declaration—that limiting marriage to opposite sex couples is sex discrimination—by amending their constitution.

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