Hate crime justice for all
by Chip Alfred
President, Philadelphia chapter, National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association
Jose Sucuzhañay was living the American dream.
A poor immigrant from Ecuador, Jose settled in Brooklyn, New York and became a successful real estate entrepreneur. That dream was shattered on December 8. Jose, 31, and his brother Romel were attacked by three men shouting anti-gay and anti-Latino slurs and wielding baseball bats. Jose died from his injuries on December 12.
The heterosexual brothers were targeted as they were walking home arm-in-arm. In Hispanic cultures, it's common for straight men to touch and show affection for each other. Jose was the father of two children and regularly sent money to family members in Ecuador.
So was it a gay or a Latino hate crime? The victims were Hispanic immigrants. This was the second fatal attack on an Ecuadorian immigrant in the New York area in a month.
New York's hate crime statute includes race, national origin and sexual orientation. It doesn't matter that the victims weren't gay. The law states that it's the assailant's "belief or perception" about the victim that determines whether or not the hate crime statute applies. Perpetrators convicted of hate crimes receive harsher punishments.
It's a different story if you're the victim of a gay-motivated hate crime in states like Pennsylvania or Colorado. Neither the federal hate crimes statute nor 21 states include sexual orientation in their hate crime laws.
Anyone can become the victim of a hate crime – as long as the intention of the person committing the crime is bias-motivated violence.
The Matthew Shepard Amendment, which is expected to be reintroduced in Congress in 2009, would include sexual orientation and gender identity in federal hate crimes legislation. Ten years after Matthew Shepard was tortured and murdered, neither Wyoming nor federal statutes protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender hate crime victims.
How many more victims like Jose Sucuzhañay or Matthew Shepard need to die before elected officials in Washington take action? The passage of the Matthew Shepard Amendment would protect gay as well as straight citizens from actual and perceived hate crimes.
The incoming Congress and new administration have a historic opportunity to protect all Americans from hate crimes.