A step toward protection – White House Conference on Hate Crimes; hate crimes against gays and lesbians – Brief Article
During a panel discussion at the White House Conference on Hate Crimes, Sheila James Kuehl, an openly lesbian member of the California state assembly, introduced the sponsor of a bias-crime measure in that state as a “confirmed heterosexual.” As assembly speaker Cruz Bustamante stood, President Clinton, who was leading the panel, quipped, “Now, that’s a man who wants to be identified.”
The audience laughed, but for gay activists, the president’s joke was an indication of a new level of comfort with the inclusion of sexual-orientation issues in efforts to combat hate crimes. Throughout the November 10 conference, leading authorities on hate crimes–from prosecutors to professors–treated antigay violence on a par with other prejudice-motivated crimes.
“Violence directed against gay men and lesbians is the Johnny-come-lately of hate-crimes organizing,” says Jack Levin, coauthor of Hate Crimes: The Rising Tide of Bigotry and Bloodshed, who addressed the conference. “It has taken those of us in the field much longer to understand both its prevalence and destructiveness than it has to understand violence against racial or religious minorities.”
Clinton used the occasion to endorse the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 1997. Sponsored by senators Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the legislation–which faces a rough road in the GOP-controlled Congress–would add language pertaining to sexual orientation, gender, and disability to existing federal statutes that increase penalties for crimes motivated by animus. He also announced initiatives to add 50 FBI agents and federal prosecutors to the team enforcing federal hate-crimes statutes and to allow victims of housing-related hate crimes to seek monetary damages.
Gay men and lesbians are among the most frequent victims of hate crimes, but only about half of the existing hate-crimes ordinances address them. According to the Justice Department, 8,759 bias crimes were reported m 1996, up from 7,947 in 1995. Sexual orientation was a factor in 12% of those cases. Race was a factor in 63% of all reported hate crimes, followed by religion, at 14%, and ethnic origin, at 11%.
The impact of the attacks is harder to assess. But preliminary results of a study on the psychological impact of hate crimes scheduled for publication next year suggest that victims of anti-gay attacks often “link [their] sense of vulnerability and powerlessness to their sexual orientation.” In addition, survivors of antigay attacks suffer from “depression, stress, and anger” for as long as five years after their victimization. Conducted by Gregory M. Herek, a research psychologist at the University of California, Davis, the study surveyed 2.300 gay men. lesbians, and bisexuals in Sacramento, Calif., from 1993 to 1996. It was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.
Clinton has made a priority of what he refers to as “one America.” The theme espouses a cultural pluralism that seeks to overcome differences among Americans. Turning to Kuehl at one point during the conference, he said that fear may help explain antigay bias crimes. “We see this a lot on gay issues,” he said. “People are unaware that they have gay people in their families. And they are terrified.”
RELATED ARTICLE: Religion
Mazel toy! As it celebrates 25 years of serving gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals, Los Angeles’s Beth Chayim Chadashim synagogue is looking toward the next generation.
BCC, reportedly the oldest gay synagogue in the world, hopes to raise $150,000 this year. Part of the money will be used to start a school, since many of the synagogue’s original members have children ready for religious instruction.
BCC is involved in numerous community services: Los Angeles Jewish AIDS Services grew out of its congregation’s efforts. BCC also is joining with other religious organizations in a series of programs under the title “L’dor v’dor”–Hebrew for the words from generation to generation. “Many members of our congregation are at a point of great change in their lives,” Rabbi Lisa Edwards told the Los Angeles Times. “Many come here after a painful break with tradition, but none of them are here because they feel they should be here, unlike some other congregations. They want to be here.”
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