National News Notes
FBI: Anti-gay crimes up in 2008
WASHINGTON, D.C. — According to a new report released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the number of victims of bias-motivated crimes based on sexual orientation increased by 11 percent in 2008. The figures show that hate crimes based on sexual orientation increased for the third year in a row and they remain the third most common type of hate crimes, behind race and religion.
“These numbers are unacceptable. While it is so important that we have the new federal hate crimes law, it is critical to ensure that we continue working with the Department of Justice to ensure the safety of LGBT citizens,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “We have to prosecute each hate crime to the fullest extent of the law, but we also need to get at the roots. When we don’t know each other as human beings, ignorance breeds misunderstanding, which breeds hate, which too often this year led to violence. We have to keep fighting the prejudices and stereotypes that underlie these acts.”
On Oct. 28, President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law. The new law gives the Justice Department the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violence by providing the Justice Department with jurisdiction over crimes of violence where a perpetrator has selected a victim because of the victim’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. In addition, it provides the Justice Department with the ability to aid state and local jurisdictions with investigations and prosecutions of bias-motivated crimes of violence.
The new law also authorizes the Justice Department to provide grants to state and local communities to cover the extraordinary expenses associated with the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes. Moreover, it authorizes the provision of grants for local programs to combat hate crimes committed by juveniles, including programs that train local law enforcement officers in identifying, investigating, prosecuting and preventing hate crimes.
The report was released just days after the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, which honors the memories of those killed by violence motivated by gender identity bias. The new hate crimes law requires the FBI for the first time to track statistics on crimes based on gender or gender identity.
N.Y. Senate rejects marriage bill
ALBANY, N.Y. — Even though New York already recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other states, the New York State Senate voted Dec. 2 against legislation legalizing gay marriage. The bill was defeated by a vote of 24-38. In July, the State Assembly voted in favor of marriage equality by an 89-52 margin, then voted again Dec. 1 in favor of the legislation 88-51.
“Today’s vote is a vote against equal treatment for all New York families,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “While some couples may be fortunate enough to travel out of state to marry and receive the protections that every family deserves, the current state of New York law leaves many families behind.”
Currently, five states recognize same-sex marriage under state law: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire (effective Jan. 1, 2010). Five additional states — California, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington and Nevada — plus Washington, D.C. offer same-sex couples the state level rights and responsibilities of marriage through civil unions or domestic partnerships.
Lesbian candidate makes history
ATLANTA, Ga. — Earlier this month Simone Bell scored an historic victory to become the first black lesbian state representative in the country. Bell won a Dec. 2 runoff in the Georgia election to represent District 58 covering the Atlanta area. She will be the second openly LGBT member of the Georgia State House of Representatives, following Rep. Karla Drenner. Atlanta voters also elected Alex Wan as the City Council’s first gay member, and first Asian American. Wan will represent City Council District 6.
“We all celebrate this victory with Representative-elect Bell,” said National Black Justice Coalition Executive Director Sharon J. Lettman. “We recognize all the hard work that goes into running for public office and commend Bell for being a shining example of leadership for everyone in the LGBT community.”
Bell has been a community advocate and activist for over 20 years, working on issues such as workplace equality, access to affordable health care, fighting HIV/AIDS discrimination and stigma and women’s rights.
Baxter shares her real ‘family ties’
LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Actress Meredith Baxter gave interviews to several media outlets earlier this month to publicly disclose that she is a lesbian. Baxter started working in the ’70s and has starred in numerous TV series and made-for-TV movies throughout her career. However, she is unquestionably most famous for portraying Elyse Keaton, a hippie-generation mom raising a right-leaning, Reagan-loving teenager, on NBC’s long-running sitcom “Family Ties.” Michael J. Fox became a cultural icon playing the son, Alex P. Keaton.
After three marriages, the 62-year-old says she has been with her partner, general contractor Nancy Locke, for four years now. She told Matt Lauer on NBC’s “Today,” “I understand why I had the issues I had earlier in my life. I had difficulty connecting with men.”
Baxter told Lauer she was speaking out because several gossip outlets had stories about her in the works. “I did not want some tabloid to take the story and make it up. I wanted it to be in my own words.”