In the wake of a brutal attack on two gay men in Philadelphia earlier this month, activists and legislators took to the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg Tuesday to call for the adoption of legislation that would expand the state’s hate crime laws to include members of the LGBT community. State Sen. Larry Farnese, a Philadelphia Democrat, led a press conference Tuesday morning and said a rally was planned for Thursday to “send a clear message” to lawmakers who might oppose the legislation.
“There is no place for hate in Pennsylvania and every citizen, regardless of who they choose to love, should be protected equally under the law, especially against hate crimes,” Farnese said in a statement.
Two proposed bills -- Senate Bill 42 and House Bill 177 -- would expand the “ethnic intimidation clause” in Chapter 27, part of the state penal code that deals with the definition of assault. Under the amended law, protected classes would include “ancestry, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity.”
Cameron L. Kline, a spokesman for Farnese, told International Business Times both bills have bipartisan support, and supporters would like to see them adopted “immediately,” but he blamed Republican committee chairmen in the House and Senate for dragging their feet.
“One of the reasons we held this press conference today was to send a message that it’s time to move the legislation, send it to the floor, so we can pass this,” Kline said. “There is support caucuswide -- and Senate- and House-wide -- but it’s not coming out of committee. And that’s something that’s controlled by the Republicans.”
The issue has gained new immediacy, however: Two gay men were attacked Sept. 11 on a street in Center City Philadelphia as their assailants allegedly yelled out homophobic slurs. The incident began when the victims were approached by a group of about a 12 men and women, one of whom asked if the men were a couple. The victims, whose identities have not been released, suffered severe injuries in the attack, including face, jaw and orbital fractures. The case made national headlines after an anonymous Twitter user helped track down the suspects.
The Human Rights Campaign reports the majority of U.S. states do not have hate crime laws that apply fully to gays and lesbians. Pennsylvania, ironically, was one of the few that did. State lawmakers passed inclusive hate crime legislation more than a decade ago, but the law was declared unconstitutional in 2007 under Pennsylvania’s “single-subject clause,” which stipulates legislation may not deal with more than one issue.
Kline called the 2007 ruling “a technicality,” and said support remains strong for the new legislation. It’s just a question, he said, of lighting a fire under committee members who can put it a vote. “The bill and the legislation was put back together and ran appropriately under the constitution and it currently sits in the committees controlled by Republican chairpersons in the House and the Senate,” he said. “And it has not moved.”