Editors' Note: This guest post comes to us from Congressman Andre Carson (D-IN). Representative Carson is Bil & Jerame's Congressman and was a co-sponsor of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1913).
Our constitutional rights to freedom of conscience, expression, and association embody a deep ethic grounded in the wisdom and dignity of individual liberty. America's diversity is inextricably wedded to our love of freedom. We are diverse precisely because we recognize and uphold each citizen's inalienable right to individual liberty and individual pursuit of happiness. As an American, I celebrate this nation's tradition of freedom and the diversity that has resulted from that tradition. As a United States Representative, I believe that our government should promote individual freedom and embrace diversity. But, equally important, I also believe that our laws must actively protect freedom from being denied through acts of intimidation and violence.
Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act which expands the current federal hate crimes statute to include crimes committed based on sexual orientation and gender identity. I am proud not only to have voted for this important bill, but also to be a cosponsor of this legislation. We all know the heartbreaking statistics on hate crimes committed against members of the LGBT community. FBI data show 1,265 reported hate crime incidents directed at gay and lesbian people in the year 2007 alone-- the third most frequent victims and over 16% of all hate crimes reported that year. And, sadly, we know that these numbers do not reflect the true magnitude of the problem as hate crimes, particularly those based on sexual orientation, are underreported and often not reported at all.
But, even in light of these statistics, I believe that we are seeing encouraging signs across America in the struggle for equal rights. Certainly, the recent state Supreme Court unanimous decision in Iowa was a huge step forward in a constitutional understanding of equality under the law. The New Hampshire legislative action shows us that long held popular prejudices are beginning to erode. In poll after poll, we see a generational shift where young people of every different background are rejecting old prejudices, divisive policies and intolerance. But, there is still much that needs to be done.
As a proud member of the LGBT Equality Caucus, I am committed to the Caucus' mission to "achieve the extension of equal rights, the repeal of discriminatory laws, the elimination of hate-motivated violence, and the improved health and well being for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression". This commitment is coupled with my deep belief that discrimination is always wrong- always. No one should be fired or harassed at the work place because of their race, their gender, their sexual orientation or their gender identity. This is why I support an inclusive Employment Nondiscrimation Act.
It is also why I am a cosponsor of legislation to repeal the shortsighted "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". Since the creation of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in 1993, the United States military has discharged over 11,000 LGBT service members, including hundreds who possessed unique language and technical skills vital to military operations. The Service Members Legal Defense Network estimates that it has cost over $300 million to replace those LGBT service members. Not only is "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" an affront to the hundreds of thousands of LGBT veterans who have nobly served their country, but it directly imperils our national security.
My personal philosophy is this: I support justice for all people and reject all forms of intolerance and bigotry. As a member of Congress, I strive to be a Representative in the truest sense of the word by representing all of my constituents no matter how politically marginalized they may be. I am deeply honored to have the privilege to represent the people of the Seventh Congressional District of Indiana and take great pride in the wonderful diversity therein.