by Sean Kosofsky
All Politics is Loco
Of course it was too good to be true – actual inclusion in federal hate crime laws. But as certain as snowfall in Detroit in December, Congressional Democrats would cave yet again to pressure from conservative Republicans. Stripping the Matthew Shepherd Act from the Department of Defense reauthorization budget has guaranteed that this bill will not become law this session. The best chance for some federal legislative progress dried up like three-day-old cranberry sauce.
I usually see the world through rose colored glasses and would love to credit Democratic leaders with passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Matthew Shepherd Act, but I can’t. We have been completely let down again. It seems no matter how much money the LGBT community raises or how hard we work to elect pro-LGBT candidates to office, our equality is not a major priority for our nation’s leaders. Democrats cave each and every time they are pressed against the wall and Republicans have no qualms heading home for the holidays and carving into their holiday turkeys the way they carved us out of the hate crimes bill.
Federal hate crime laws currently do not include sexual orientation or gender identity. They also only allow for federal jurisdiction when hate crimes are committed against people engaged in federally protected acts like attending public school or voting. The Matthew Shepherd Act would expand jurisdiction for more hate crime situations and include LGBT people so that if local jurisdictions do not or will not prosecute hate crimes the federal government could step in and provide resources and leadership.
Hate crime laws do not offer “protections” as many people claim. Indeed it is very difficult for anyone but survivors to protect themselves (see http://www.tri.org for tips). Hate crime laws are about justice and responding to domestic terrorism. It is about the government saying that we must be civilized and that there are consequences for targeting people because of who they are, who they associate with or how they look. Most other crime is different and so hate crime laws need a special response. The ultimate goal would be for hate crime laws to focus less on punishment and more on services for victims and diversity programs in our communities. But currently our hate crime laws treat GLBTs as scum. Lower than scum – invisible.
There was opposition among progressives to attaching the hate crime bill to the DoD reauthorization, but I say it was one of the smartest things Democrats did. Since Congress seems content on funding the war in Iraq forever we might as well attach good policy to it and hold our noses. Keep in mind the DoD bill is not just funding the war, it is funding the entire Department of Defense so President Bush has to sign it. But if the Matthew Shepherd Act heads to his desk without the proper garnish, it will be swept off the president’s plate faster than mystery marshmallow ambrosia.
What irritates me most is the grandstanding from liberal leaders in Congress who issued statements last week declaring that they are still committed to sending this hate crime bill to the President’s desk. Big whoop. That’s like trying to start a fire underwater but bragging that you’ve got really strong matches. Too little, too late. Get out of the pool, you’re all wet.
Congressional Democrats have already failed to impeach Bush, failed to end the war, failed to pass pro-LGBT laws, confirmed a pro-torture Attorney General and increased funding for abstinence-only education. If this is the leadership we are getting in a non-election year I can’t wait for the real progress to emerge.