Important LGBT-focused legislation has been introduced in recent days in the General Assembly! Representative Jeb Bardon (D - Indianapolis) has filed HB 1716 - a bill to update the state's non-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity. (The bill is not yet online or I'd include a link.)
I've met Rep. Bardon several times and he's consistently been a gentleman and a scholar. He's also spoken at Indiana Equality house parties about the importance of treating all of our citizens equally and with honor. We couldn't ask for a better champion for this important piece of legislation.
By far and away, this is the most important proposed law for LGBT citizens this session. I've been harping constantly on the importance of achieving full equality for all Hoosiers - after all, how can we demand equal access to marriage, domestic partner benefits, and health insurance if we can still be fired for simply being who we are? Everything else flows through this, people. This is the stepping stone we need to gain our rights as citizens.
Also recently introduced is HB 1459 which was filed by Democratic Representative Greg Porter - Indianapolis. HB 1459 would provide for enhanced penalties for hate crimes. (It's not online yet either.) Rep Porter has long been an advocate of bias crime legislation and I'm sure he appreciates Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi's recent push in support of the legislation.
In an interview with The Indianapolis Star's editorial board Tuesday, Brizzi said he is working to change state law so that judges will have the authority to enhance penalties for crimes motivated by bias against a victim's race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
Indiana is one of five states that do not officially list hate crimes as a sentencing aggravator. Now, Brizzi said, most hate crimes tend to be categorized as an assault or vandalism.
You'll notice, however, that the language Brizzi is pushing does not include gender identity. I'm sure it will be a long hard slog to get our transgender friends included, but we must. I would suggest that we flatly oppose any hate crimes bill that doesn't include gender identity.
While I'm actually not a big fan of hate crimes legislation (Yes, I know you're going to take away my gay card. Jerame and I argue about it all the time!), I'm sure Gary Welsh from Advance Indiana will be pleased. He's been talking about a hate crimes bill for over a year - since the Republican prosecutor announced through back channels that he would support the legislation and try to push it through. Gary has advocated for a hate crimes bill as long and hard as I've harped on a civil rights bill. While we've made different decisions as to what is most important to Indiana's LGBT community, today we both have something to be extremely happy about.
And so do you.
So what's your opinion? Which is more important - a hate crimes bill or a civil rights bill?
UPDATE: Contributor Chris Douglas has informed me (in the comments section) that the hate crimes bill language does include gender identity. One less thing to worry about!