Pass a meaningful law
Pittsburgh council should protect those at risk
As Pittsburgh City Council weighs the enacting of local gun controls — a clear and divisive overstep of the panel’s authority — council and the community would be better served by the panel redirecting its attention to a
legal law that would codify the city’s concern for victims of hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
A fight involving a transgender man in Pittsburgh spurred Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. to put a bug in the ears of local elected officials: State hate crime laws do not offer protections based on sex and gender.
Race, color, religion and national origin are protected classes under Pennsylvania’s current hate crime law. Previously, the law had protected lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people by virtue of an addition to the state’s Ethnic Intimidation Act in 2002. But that protection was rescinded in 2007 when the Commonwealth Court ruled the expansion of the hate crimes law had been been procedurally flawed. The state Supreme Court upheld that decision in 2008 and state legislators have not filled the gap.
Some local municipalities have, including Philadelphia. Pittsburgh should follow suit. As things stand, if police encounter an assault or another crime that victimizes a person based on his or her gender or sexual orientation, authorities can file any number of criminal charges, such as assault or harassment, depending on the specific circumstances. But a hate crime ordinance would give police another tool in their toolbox.
It wouldn’t be a tool with much heft. That’s because a crime ordinance not contained in the state crimes code can’t be categorized as anything more serious than a summary offense — the equivalent of a traffic ticket. Nonetheless, such a local ordinance would signal to the LGBTQ community that the city cares.
Pittsburgh City Council President Bruce Kraus has said a consultation with the city’s law department is under way. It’s a step in the right direction. A local ordinance would be a placeholder until the state Legislature gets on the right side of history, and toleration.