By Brianna Dinan
In response to a highly publicized recent attack on two gay men in Center City this month, over 300 people gathered at LOVE Park last Thursday to rally for an extension of Pennsylvania’s hate crime laws to include sexual orientation as a motivation requiring enhanced sentencing.
The rally was held by Representative Brian Sims, and was attended by state and local government officials, community leaders, and concerned citizens, who gathered in drizzling rain to address the issues of hate, homophobia and violence in Philadelphia.
According to Senator Larry Farnese, who was on scene, it is the third rally held recently in the state around the issue of equality.
“I think it is an utter disgrace that we have to consistently get together to rally to get the legislature in Pennsylvania to join the rest of the country and begin to support what we know is the right thing to do,” he said.
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown told The Declaration that she and Councilman James Kenney have introduced a measure to close a “loophole” in laws regarding hate crimes.
“Now, if you hate those that are sexually different than you, those who have a different identity than you, those that are disabled–there’s a price that you must pay for exercising your hate,” she said.
According to Philadelphia Magazine‘s Josh Middleton, the bill proposed in City Council would “provide ‘additional penalties for criminal conduct motivated by hatred regarding sexual orientation, gender identity and disabilities as defined in the City’s Fair Practices Ordinance and all of which are not covered by existing state hate crime laws.’”
Though many may see the rally as a step in the right direction, others question whether enacting hate crime legislation would really help decrease racist or homophobic crimes in the future.
Ann Pelligrini, director of New York University’s Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, questions the utility of hate crime legislation. Opposition to enacting such laws stems from two lines of thinking, she argues in a recent article in The Nation:
“The first is that the laws are disproportionately used against poor people and people of color. The second is that they simply try to fix the problem of bias crime by putting people in prison for longer periods of time, which usually leads to more-hardened criminals.”
Of all the speakers at the rally, only LGBT community leader Chris Bartlett addressed changing methods of education to prevent the problem rather than enacting a law like many others in the Philadelphia community are pushing.
Bartlett believes that a combination of legislation and education is the most progressive way to ensure that hate crime laws will no longer be necessary within our generation or the next.
“The responsibility lies in each of us to push hard for the structural changes that will allow us to personally and collectively address the root causes of hatred and violence,” Bartlett said. “We must improve our school system to replace hatred with acceptance, and dare I say, love.”