Bill would extend hate crimes law to gender identity and disability

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Some clergy, a group that advocates for LGBTQ rights, and a group that advocates for the rights of people with disabilities are calling on Mississippi lawmakers to expand the state’s hate crimes law to cover offenses committed in because of a disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity of the victim, as federal law already does.

“When someone is targeted simply because of who they are or what abilities they do or don’t have, it’s not just a crime against them. It’s a crime against everyone like them,” Scott Crawford, who serves on the board of directors of the Mississippi Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities, said at a press conference Monday at the state Capitol. “It intimidates and terrorizes the whole community of people.”

Mississippi enacted a hate crimes law in 1994 despite the government’s veto at the time. Kirk Fordice, a Republican. The law provides for harsher penalties when people are convicted of crimes motivated by “the race, color, ancestry, ethnic origin, religion, national origin or sex of the victim, whether actual or perceived “.

The proposal to create enhanced penalties for crimes motivated by a victim’s disability, sexual orientation or gender identity is included in House Bill 1467, which faces a deadline Tuesday within of the House Judiciary Committee B. The bill will die if the committee does not examine it. Similar proposals have died on Capitol Hill in Mississippi for the past four years.

Rob Hill, Mississippi director of the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group, said deadly violence has increased against transgender and gender nonconforming people in the United States. He pointed to the murders in Mississippi last year of Dominque Jackson, a black transgender woman, and Mel Groves, a black transgender man. No one has been prosecuted in either case.

“We must honor their memory and work to find their killers,” Hill said. “By updating our hate crime laws in Mississippi, we would give our law enforcement agencies all the tools they need to properly investigate and prosecute hate crimes.”

Leaders of the Catholic, Episcopal and United Methodist churches in Mississippi were among the clergy signing a letter in support of House Bill 1467.

Reverend Warren Coile is president of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships for the Mississippi Conference of The United Methodist Church. He said Monday that several years ago, in another state, his nephew was attacked after school because other students thought the teenager was gay.

“Anytime we target someone who is ‘other,’ we are sinning,” Coile said as he stood with others supporting the bill.

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