Bill targets hate crimes

Kelly Petryszyn

Violence against LGBT increasing

Credit: DKS Editors

When people hear about hate crimes happening, they normally picture it in another state or city, not anywhere close to home.

Kent State, however, was the location of a hate crime about three years ago.

In February 2006, former PRIDE! Kent president Angela Wicks was assaulted when she was walking on front campus to a friend’s apartment between 2 and 3 a.m., said PRIDE! Kent vice president Trae Ruscin at their meeting Thursday.

A group of men screamed “faggot” at her. One of them pushed her. She curled up into a ball, and they kicked her arms and legs. She got up and tried to run away, but they chased her. After a while, they stopped following her. Kent State Police didn’t count it as a hate crime, but Wicks believed they assaulted her because they mistook her for a gay man.

Currently Ohio’s hate crime law is based on race, religion, color or national origin but not sexual orientation or gender identity. But a few weeks ago, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in a 281 to 146 vote to expand the definition of violent federal hate crimes to include protection of crimes committed because of one’s sexual orientation. The bill will now move to the Senate.

Previous attempts have been made to pass the law but never succeeded. States have variations of hate crime laws, but each state is different.

Some of the state laws are in place but not applied, said Daniel Nadon, a theater professor who teaches Introduction to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Studies. He added the state laws are not very consistent, but a federal law would mandate universal enforcement.

Violence against LGBT individuals in the United States increased 24 percent between 2006 and 2007, according to a report released by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs in May 2008. The FBI also reported an increase in LGBT hate crimes.

“Over the years the more visibility we have and the more we have laws that support us, the more isolated our enemies feel and the more likely they are to lash out,” Nadon said.

He added that he thinks the openness LGBT people have is a good thing, but it also makes them vulnerable to people who feel strongly against them. The attitude now is a contrast to when he was in college. Twenty years ago, people were not as open about their sexual orientation, and LGBT hate crimes didn’t get reported.

One of the most well-known LGBT hate crimes is the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard. The University of Wyoming student was kidnapped as he was leaving a bar. He was robbed and pistol-whipped then tied to a fence in a remote area. He was discovered 18 hours later and died after days in the hospital.

PRIDE!Kent president Max Harrington said he remembers his mom telling him about what happened, and she said people passing by thought he was a scarecrow. The image stuck with him and made him aware from an early age.

Harrington said he thinks if the law passes, it will not stop hate crimes from occurring but may limit them.

The real answer to stopping hate crimes is awareness, Ruscin said.

Ruscin said another solution is if people realized “gay people are humans – just like everyone else.”

To prevent future hate crimes from happening on the Kent campus years after Wicks’ assault, Queer Liberation Front addressed safety issues on campus with the campus police. The group sponsored a safety walk with the Kent State Police and pointed out safety issues. As a result, additional emergency phones and lights were installed.

Regardless of what happens with the bill, Ruscin said it’s important to know hate crimes still exist.

“Remember these things do happen, and they do happen here,” Ruscin said.

Contact diversity reporter Kelly Petryszyn at [email protected].