Washington OKs transgender hate-crime protection

Posted on 09 Apr 2009 at 6:08pm
By Curt Woodward Associated Press

Supporters say change to law is a matter of fairness

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Attacks against transgender people could be prosecuted as hate crimes under a bill approved Wednesday, April 8 by Washington’s Legislature.

The state’s hate-crime law says it’s a felony to threaten, damage the property of, or physically injure someone because of ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation.

At present, the hate-crime definition of sexual orientation covers gay, straight or bisexual people. The bill approved Wednesday adds "gender expression or identity" to that definition, making the law apply to attacks on transgender people.

Lawmakers who supported the change said broadening hate-crime protections was a matter of fairness and justice. Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, said the state has a duty to defend people who are targeted solely because of who they are.

"If we do not defend the rights of those individuals, we defend the rights of no one," said Hurst, a former police officer.

Republican opponents argued against the principle of the hate-crime law itself, saying it seems unfair to dole out tougher punishments for crimes committed against certain types of victims.

"We’re not protecting people equally," said Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama. "We aren’t protecting the cowboy that walks into a location where he is the one that stands out, or when a woman walks into a facility where she is the one that stands out."

But Rep. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo, pointed out that women are indeed protected under hate-crime laws if they’re attacked or threatened because of their gender. Liias also noted that stronger punishments already extend beyond the hate-crime statute, covering crimes against children or police officers, for instance.

By not giving hate-crime protections to transgender people, "We’ve said, ‘You’re just too different,’" Liias said.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 68-30, with six Republicans joining all House Democrats in favor of the bill. The measure was approved by the state Senate last month.

It now heads to Gov. Chris Gregoire, who is expected to sign it into law. The change would take effect three months after the end of the 2009 legislative session, which is scheduled to adjourn April 26.

The bill is Senate Bill 5952.

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