Pass a mean­ing­ful law

Pitts­burgh coun­cil should pro­tect those at risk

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - National -

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.

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