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Gay Advocates Protest Veto of Hate Crimes Bill

Saturday, July 10, 2010

 

Gay advocates are blasting Governor Don Carcieri for vetoing a bill on hate crimes without even trying to understand it or talk to them about why it is important.

“The governor vetoed the bill without getting any information about it. He called it confusing—he said it had confusing language,” said Susan Heroux, communications director for Queer Action of Rhode Island. “There was no shortage of people offering to explain the bill and why it was important.”

Heroux said the bill would have expanded the existing law on hate crimes to include acts committed against people based on their gender identity or expression. She wondered why the governor would have found the bill “confusing” given that it uses the same terminology in other state laws that bar discrimination against transgendered people.

“It’s a very simple bill that would help a lot of people,” Heroux said.

Several gay advocates told GoLocalProv that they had called the governor’s office to talk to him about the importance of the bill—and never heard back from him. Yesterday, they made sure he heard them loud and clear at a protest rally held at the Statehouse.

A spokeswoman for the governor said his office had not been able to identify “any recent requests coming into the office for a meeting with the Governor.”

She said Carcieri would not change his position and was standing by his original veto message. In that message, Carcieri indeed does cite the other areas of state law that mention gender identity and expression and concludes that they are not useful additions to the state hate crimes law.

“These terms are confusing,” Carcieri said. “As long as a criminal act was done willfully and knowingly, the perpetrator’s motives are irrelevant.”

But gay rights advocates weren’t buying it. They noted that Carcieri had already vetoed the bill when the General Assembly passed it in a previous legislative session and he had nixed a bill that would have granted burial rights to gay partners. “It really feels like LGBT people in Rhode Island don’t have equal access to the laws in Rhode Island,” Heroux said.

Groups Will Try to Pass Hate Crimes Bill Again

Carcieri is in his last year in office—but Heroux said she hoped the rally sent a message to the next governor. She said it wasn’t “good government” to say you don’t understand something and use that as the reason for vetoing it. She said groups involved in the issue would press for the bill to be re-introduced in the next session.

But at least one other protestor held out hope that it’s not too late to reverse the veto this year. “We hope that the General Assembly will reconvene and override the veto. That’s what we hope. We realize that the odds are against that happening,” said Victor Ellingsen, the director of LifeLines Rhode Island, a support group for transgendered individuals.

Exactly how many hate crimes are committed against transgendered individuals is difficult to determine. “We need the police to keep track of it, but the police can’t do it without the bill passing,” Heroux said.

But Jodi Glass, a member of the state Commission on Prejudice and Bias said she heard plenty of stories from transgendered individuals when she worked for LifeLines. “We know it’s prevalent because we’re grassroots,” Glass said. “We hear the horror stories from people who are too terrified to go to the police.”

 

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