Council Committee Approves Hate Crimes Bill

Legislation proposed after September gay-bashing attack.

A City Council committee on Tuesday afternoon gave preliminary approval to a bill that creates municipal hate crimes protection for people victimized because of their sexual orientation.

The bill is intended to extend protections not available under the state’s hate crimes law, which doesn’t cover sexual orientation. It was sponsored by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown and Councilman James Kenney following the September attack on a gay couple in Center City. Tuesday’s hearing was held by the council’s Committee on Public Safety.

Brown said that Philly values diversity. “I’m of the view we will not allow a few thugs to change that reputation,” she said as the hearing opened.

In addition to sexual orientation and gender identity, the bill would also create municipal hate crimes protection for people targeted for crime because of a disability.

“Too many of our kids who suffer from autism get beat up for their disability,” Brown said. “It’s unacceptable.”

The committee heard from a number of witnesses who asked for approval of the hate crimes bill.

“Even in a city as progressive as ours, hate can and does arise,” said Rue Landau, of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations. The September attack “was violent and it was scary.”

“I want to not feel endangered when I walk through the city,” added Jordan Gwendolyn Davis, a transgender lesbian activist.

There was just one note of caution. Philadelphia Police Captain Francis Healy said the department supports the intent of the bill, but worried it would create jurisdictional and double jeopardy problems. An assault charge filed under state law might preclude the filing of a city hate crimes charge, he said, and vice versa.

“The last thing we want to do is compromise the case against some thug based on a technicality,” he said.

Healy added: “This should not be an issue for you to address. It should have stayed in Harrisburg.”

Landau noted that a state bill extending hate crimes protection to gays and lesbians passed out of a committee — but with the legislative session ending, it will have to be reintroduced next year.

“If the Commonwealth does not act as you say they should, we will act,” Brown told Healy.

The bill now goes to the full Council for final passage.

At the outset of the hearing, a moment of silence was held for Gloria Casarez, Philadelphia’s first director of the Mayor’s Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Affairs. She died Sunday at age 42.

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