Passing a hate crimes law has been a major objective of all the LGBT advocacy outfits in Washington for ten years. Though the bill actually passed out of the House and Senate in the last Congress, President George W. Bush persuaded Congressional leadership to drop it before the measure to which it was attached (war funding, 'natch) got to him. President Obama has promised to sign it this time.
This year's bill is the first piece of federal legislation to include gender identity as well as sexual orientations under legal protections. Despite the fears of homophobes and other right wingers, it doesn't forbid anyone to say hurtful things about queers and those perceived as gender-nonconforming -- but it will lead to education for law enforcement and the general public about the need to prevent hate violence against LGBT people and enable the feds to get involved when such crimes happen.
A bit of history makes clear how major a political victory passing this law is: despite nearly 5000 racially motivated lynchings in the first half of the 20th century, the Senate blocked over 200 bills explicitly criminalizing lynching between 1900 and the 1950s. In 2005, the Senate passed an apology to the victims of past lynching -- but insisted on a voice vote, so Senators still in opposition to this repudiation of historic racism would not have to be counted. Dredging equity out of Congress is never easy, however obvious the need appears.
Meanwhile in other parts of the world, it is still hard to be gay and/or gay friendly -- and in some places it getting harder. The gentleman at the left is Rt. Rev. Christopher Senyonjo, former Anglican bishop of Western Buganda in Uganda, and a determined friend of gay people in his country. After his retirement, he found himself offering counseling and acting as chaplain to a group of young gay men in Kampala. The 77-year-old, married, father of seven, was deprived of his pension and kicked out of his church for taking in these outcasts. I had the privilege of spending time with this kind, straightforward man in the course of work for the full inclusion of LGBT in the Episcopal Church.
Uganda is currently in the grip of a classic panic about homosexuality -- demagogues are charging that the few visible gay people will somehow destroy the precarious nation. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) describes a proposed new law:
This is hate indeed. And Bishop Christopher would fall directly in its reach along with this congregation.
People in the United States need to raise our voices against this proposal. It's not enough to just get our own law. IGLHRC has provided email addresses and a sample letter at this link.