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April 30, 2009

Washington, DC - Congressman Barney Frank yesterday spoke out in favor of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1913), which would expand the definition of violent hate crimes to include gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability, and which would allow the federal government to assist in prosecution of hate crimes. Frank has been a central force behind the legislation, which passed the House of Representatives yesterday afternoon.

Video of the Congressman's speech can be seen by clicking on the image below; the transcript from the Congressional Record follows.

Under current law, the federal government can only investigate hate crimes motivated by the victim's race, color, religion or national origin. The new legislation would include gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability, and would effectively cover transgender individuals. The bill applies only to violent crimes against individuals who belong to the groups covered, or who are perceived by the aggressor to belong to one of these groups.

Critics of the legislation have claimed that it infringes on the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, which it does not. The bill only pertains to violent hate crimes, not, as some have said, to words or thoughts.

During floor debate, some Republican members suggested that sexual orientation is not a motivation in violent crimes, even in the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard. Frank strongly criticized such sentiments.

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act is supported by a broad coalition of organizations, including law enforcement, LGBT rights, civil rights, religious, women's advocacy and disability organizations.

The Hate Crimes Prevention Act extends federal jurisdiction to hate crimes motivated by the victim's actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability, and provides assistance to state and local law enforcement to streamline the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 249-175 (see roll call vote), mostly along partisan lines.


Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. My thanks to the gentleman from Michigan, who has been such an extraordinary moral force in his leadership in the Judiciary Committee and under whom I was proud to serve.

Let me begin by saying apparently we have in Philadelphia one of the longest pending criminal cases in history because the gentleman from Indiana mentioned that people were arrested and charged in 2004. But he didn't tell us what happened to them. Well, he said it was terrible, they were charged. One would assume that people would be interested in knowing what happened.

I will tell the House what happened. The charges were dismissed. Now, the gentleman from Indiana apparently forgot to say that. Those arrests were false. They should not have taken place. But let me say this: If we were to repeal every criminal statute because some police officer may have made an improper arrest, things would be pretty anarchic.

I also do think if you're going to talk about an incident, certainly would be my practice, and if you talked about criminal charges and they were dismissed that you would say so, that you wouldn't leave people wondering. So I do want people who are worried about the fate of those poor people in Philadelphia who, if you listened to the gentleman from Indiana, these last 5 years have been facing felony charges, please don't worry. Those charges should not have been brought and they were dismissed. Now, you hear about that often because it's apparently the only case we do have. No one has been successfully prosecuted, nor should they be, for this.

Now, I do want to say this: I'm delighted to hear some of the most conservative Members of this House expressing support for free speech in this context. Only in this context. They have not been conspicuous in demanding the right of free speech, but I'll take it when I can get it.

There was a statute proposed here that interfered with the free speech of a member of the clergy. Now, he is a lunatic member of the clergy named Phelps, and he was going and standing out at cemeteries and denouncing them on his religious grounds. I did not think people should be allowed to disrupt funerals, but I voted against the bill, along with my colleague from Texas (Mr. Paul) and my colleague from Oregon (Mr. Wu), and all the rest of these great defenders of free speech on the other side said he couldn't stand half a mile from the cemetery an hour before with his anti-gay sign. Now, I will confess that when he heard that I had come to his defense, that caused him more aggravation than anything else; so it was for me a twofer. I got to defend free speech and aggravate a lunatic. But I don't remember a lot of free speech defenses then because it wasn't popular.

Now, in addition to free speech, there is one other thing that's very interesting. You would think this is the first time hate crimes ever came up in American history. There are on the books statutes that increase the penalty for crimes depending on the motivation. And people say everybody should be treated equally. By the way, I assume Members know that there was a special statute that makes it particularly egregious in terms of sentencing if you assault a Member of Congress.

I assume nobody knew that on that side because they would have moved to repeal it. They apparently are perfectly comfortable getting a greater degree of Federal protection against crime than the average citizen.

Did they forget to repeal that? Where was that motion? Mr. Chairman, did that come up in the committee? Well, apparently not. But there were other categories, age and race.

Let's be very clear, Mr. Speaker. It is not the concept of hate crime protection that is controversial. We have had it and it has been administered. It is extending it to people like me, to those of us who are gay, to people who are transgender. And the assertion that there is no basis for protecting transgender people against violence, that's Marxist in its oddity.

And I mean by that, of course, Chico Marx, who said at one notable point when Groucho caught him red-handed, ``Who are you going to believe--me or your own eyes?'

The fact is that crimes against people who are transgender have been very serious. I know they are not always prosecuted as well as they should have been. But I do want to stress, the notion of hate crimes, of increasing the penalty because of the motivation for certain characteristics of the victim, has not been controversial on the Republican side. They have made no effort to change it.

If they were really motivated by what they claim to be saying, or what they are saying, then they would be for repealing hate crimes in general. They would be for repealing hate crimes based on race and age and other categories. It's only when it deals with gay people. And because in some people's minds saying that it's wrong to assault someone who is transgender may mean that you have to show some respect for that person.

Well, let me reassure them. I do think that there ought to be hate crimes protection against gay, lesbian and transgender people. By that I mean that if there is a physical crime, actions that are otherwise criminal, the fact that it is based on that prejudice should count.

The SPEAKER pro tempore. The time of the gentleman has expired.

Mr. CONYERS. I yield the gentleman an additional minute.

Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. I thank the chairman.

I want to make it very clear. Yes, I do want there to be protection against violence committed against people like me, but let me reassure those, some on the other side. In asking that transgender people or people like me or people like my colleague from Wisconsin be protected against violence, I am not seeking your approval. Your approval of the way in which I live is not terribly important to me, I would say to them, Mr. Speaker, so I do want to differentiate.

Those of us who think that violence should be prevented are not asking for approval from people with whom we are perfectly prepared not to associate any more than necessary. This is not a request for acceptance. We don't want it. We don't need it from those people. What we are talking about is a protection against violence.

The last point is this. Why a hate crime? Because when someone is assaulted as an individual, that individual is put in fear. But when a group is assaulted because of race or religion or sexual orientation, members who aren't assaulted, if there's a pattern to this, are also put in fear. That's the rationale, and it applies here as well as elsewhere.

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