Some Texas lawmakers seek expansion of hate crimes law to LGBT community
A handful of Texas lawmakers are seeking to protect the LGBT community via expansion and review of hate crimes law and employment discrimination legislation. Conservative group The Liberty Institute considers such measures a form of mind control and suppression of opposing views to homosexuality.
“We are concerned when legislators try to use discrimination laws to create new categories of people while keeping others out. It seems to be oftentimes a way to advance and expand the homosexual agenda,” said Jonathan Saenz, the Institute’s director of legislative affairs.
Senate Bill 741 by state Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and House Bill 208 by state Rep. Robert Alonzo (D-Dallas) would prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity/expression from affecting someone’s ability to obtain fair insurance rates. HB 665, called the “Freedom from Workplace Discrimination Act,” filed by Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio), would ban Texas employers from discriminating against LGBT employees, as the Texas Independent previously reported.
“The reality is major corporations already have employment practices that would prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. Without this protection we may not be successful in luring corporations to relocate to Texas, it could be viewed as negative for the state and our economic development,” said Chuck Smith, deputy executive director of LGBT rights advocacy group Equality Texas. “If Gov. Perry wants to stay true to one of his campaign slogans ‘Open For Business’ then we need to fully support economic competition in all ways.”
Smith is more optimistic about the bill this session than a similar one proposed in 2009, as it was recently referred to the Economic & Small Business Development committee rather than State Affairs, a move he considers fitting.
HB 2227 by state Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) would enhance the existing Texas hate crimes law to include protection for those in the transgender community. Unlike at the federal level, the state’s act currently does not provide equal punishment for crimes motivated by an individual’s gender identity or expression.
“There is a whole group of people who have been left out of the hate crimes law,” Coleman said. “While many transgendered men and women have been accepted in the mainstream, some have not. Those are the ones who end up getting hit with a baseball bat walking down the street to their car because of a bias or prejudice. We need to protect them by law.”
“I don’t think that’s the way justice works. We already have laws in place; if people are assaulted, let’s just enforce those existing laws instead of carving off special protection for some groups and not others,” Saenz said.
In HB 172, state Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Fort Worth) calls for a comprehensive reexamination and review of the effectiveness of The James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act, which Smith said fails to be fully used for its intent. With less than a dozen prosecutions amid 1,800 bias-motivated crimes, components of enforcing the original law are falling short, he said.
In 2009, state Rep. Scott Hochberg (D-Houston) introduced legislation that would expand hate crimes penalties to juvenile offenders.
Saenz said the Institute lobbied heavily against Hochberg’s bill, largely crediting themselves for its defeat and described the measure as, “further evidence of a desire to control people’s minds and not allow them to have opposing views, particularly on the issue of homosexuality,” according to the Institute’s blog.
Saenz also told the Dallas Morning News he was concerned about anti-cyberbullying legislation by state Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin), fearing it could single LGBT students out for “special categories and special rights.”
A 2010 poll commissioned by Equality Texas and conducted by a national firm found the majority of Texans support equal rights for lesbian, gay and transgender residents. Of the registered Texas voters who were polled, 75 percent support prohibiting discrimination in employment and housing based on sexual orientation and gender identity (69 percent) and 63 percent support allowing gay and lesbian couples to get a civil union. About 67 percent of Texans polled agree hate crime legislation should protect the transgender community.
(Image by: Matt Mahurin)