Perspective: Your Life Depends On It

There is nothing more frustrating to me than a gay person who won't vote.

By: ANTHONY M. BROWN | There is nothing more frustrating to me than a gay person who won't vote. While hard to believe, there are still some of you out there. Recently, my friend Patricia, whom I have known for almost 20 years and lived with as a roommate for two years, told me that she had never registered to vote, nor does she plan to do so for the upcoming presidential election.

“I would have voted, if it were Hillary,” she explained.

What's more, Patricia just moved to Pennsylvania, where her vote could really make a difference. I explained why it was so important. I went through the laundry list of reasons, from the Supreme Court to the economy to the war in Iraq. Nothing made a difference. But what I didn't say was that her vote might just be a matter of life and death.

According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, in a 78-page report released in May of 2008, anti-LGBT hate crimes have increased by 24 percent since 2006. The number of reported incidents rose from 1,954 to a whopping 2,430 and occurred in every region of the country. Shockingly, since that report was released, an increase in hate activity was reported, with at least 13 brutal crimes perpetrated on our community.

Many of you have heard about Lawrence King, the 15 year-old boy who was shot by a classmate in California this past February for wearing nail polish and acting less than manly. Unfortunately, Lawrence is only the tip of the iceberg and, as many of these crimes are perpetrated against our transgendered brothers and sisters, the media is not so comfortable, or adept, with accurately reporting what is going on.

But the numbers don't lie. In Michigan, the number of LGBT-related hate crimes increased by 207 percent. In Minnesota, the increase was 135 percent; in Kansas City, 142 percent. And in Pennsylvania, the number rose by 28 percent. When it happens to one of us, Patricia, it happens to us all.

So how does her vote matter? John McCain has consistently opposed creating federal hate crime protections for gay and transgendered people. He voted against LGBT-inclusive hate crimes bills in 2000, 2002, 2004, and, just last year, McCain was the only senator to miss the voting session on the Matthew Shepard Act, which gave the Justice Department the ability to aid, or take over, investigations and prosecutions of bias-related crimes. The Matthew Shepard Act was eventually attached to a Defense Authorization bill, but later gutted in a conference committee because of Bush's veto threat.

To contrast, Barack Obama has pledged throughout his campaign to enact a fully inclusive federal hate crimes law. He not only took time away from campaigning to vote on the Matthew Shepard Act, but he cast the deciding 60th vote to pass the law in the face of a filibuster threat, and he co-sponsored the bill as well.

In 2002, Obama was the chief co-sponsor in the Illinois State Senate of a bill that not only identified classes of felonies for the commission of a hate crime, but also created the offense of “conspiracy against civil rights,” by which a person, with intent to interfere with the free exercise of a right or privilege secured by the Constitution, agrees with another to inflict or threaten physical harm on any person if one of the two acts in furtherance of that agreement.

If that kind of protection were in place on the federal level, hate crime numbers would plummet and all of us, in the LGBT community and others threatened by violent crime based on prejudice, could rest assured knowing that our country believes that we deserve equal protection under the law. Currently, only 11 states, and the District of Columbia, have LGBT-inclusive hate crime laws. Luckily for Patricia, Pennsylvania is one of them. Thirty-one states have hate crime laws that cover sexual orientation, but not gender identity.

Seventy-three percent of Americans, according to a 2007 Hart Research poll, already support the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in federal hate crimes law. I am not sure how Patricia feels about hate crimes protections; I just hope that those other 73 percent are registered to vote!

Anthony M. Brown, an attorney, is a member of the Obama for America National LGBT Steering and Policy Committee (but is not writing on its behalf), and is the executive director of The Wedding Party. He can be reached at Brown@msclaw.net.

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