Last week, after a brutal attack on a gay couple in Philadelphia, residents of Pennsylvania discovered a harsh reality, the state's hate-crimes statute does not protect attacks based on gender or sexual orientation. What this means is that the three individuals who attack the gay couple, simply because they were gay, can't be charged with a hate crime, despite the fact that their act was motivated by nothing more than hate. In today's blog your Pittsburgh LGBT rights lawyers explain the situation and what is being done to remedy it.
From 2002-2008, the Pennsylvania's law on hate crimes included acts based on sexual orientation and gender in its definition, but these two categories were removed by a decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2008. Since that time LGBT individuals who have been attacked or abused because of their sexual orientation have not seen their attackers prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
In response to the attacks, Councilman Jim Kenney sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney's office. In the letter he asked the United States government to investigate the crime. The US has the power to become involved due to the Matthew Shepard Act, which became law in 2008. This Act is meant to cover cases in states that do not have hate-crime provisions in place that protect LGBT individuals, and allows the US government to file charges against the attackers.
Other officials who showed their support of LGBT individuals included the State Senator from Pittsburgh, Jim Ferlo. Ferlo, along with a group of other state legislators, held a press conference during which they "called upon the state of Pennsylvania to add physical disability, sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity to the state's hate crime provisions."
The press conference, which took place last Tuesday, took quite an unexpected turn when during his speech on the issue of LGBT rights, Senator Ferlo came out as gay.
"I'm gay. Get over it. It's a great life," he said. "I think the more that people learn and respect and experience diversity, I think the better off we are as a society."
Strong support for those attacked has also come from the group, Equality Pennsylvania. The group began a petition which asks state residents to email their elected officials and voice their opinion on the subject of hate crimes. It asks individuals to urge their local government to work towards having sexual orientation and gender protected via the state's hate crimes statute.
Our Pittsburgh LGBT Rights Lawyers at Lisa Marie Vari & Associates also encourage you to reach out to your local politicians and urge them to fight for equal protection for all people. We hope that Pennsylvania will act quickly in changing its law so that all people that live within our great state feel safe and protected.