By Grant Hallmark
Alabama Political Reporter
“Those who are perceived to be gay are the largest group of victims of hate crime, but the law doesn’t protect them,” State Representative Patricia Todd said of the current hate crime law. She continued, saying she simply wanted the law to reflect this fact.
In the upcoming legislative session, Todd will be introducing an amendment to the current hate crimes law to include sexual orientation and identification as protected classes.
For Todd, this issue is dear to her heart. She is the only openly gay public official in the state. As agay person, she has endured quite a bit of harassment herself. “I’ve been asked to resign from positions in the past because of my orientation,” Todd said. She went on to say she had received threats after being elected due to her sexual orientation. “It’s simply an educational process.” Quite a positive attitude for a sheep in the lion’s den.
According to Todd, many legislators have approached her to thank her for the education she has provided. Some even told her that, before her, they had never met a gay person before. “I told them, ‘Yes you have, you just didn’t know it!’” Of course, many of the elected officials come from and represent rural areas where sexual orientation is not a subject of conversation or discussion, but a reason to physically or verbally abuse.
Although Todd views herself as simply an educator on the issue, though her work will do much more than educate: it would finally protect a continuously mistreated group of people. According to Todd, the most targeted group of harassment, verbal or physical, in schools is composed of those who are perceived to be gay. This means the hate crime and enhanced penalties laws do not protect the largest group of victims. “All I want to do is have the law reflect this reality,” Todd said. As of now, the law protects those who belong to a religious, ethnic, or physically disabled group.
Opponents of the amendment have told Todd that there is no need for the addition of protected classes. The argument most commonly conjectured is that there is no need for enhanced penalties for crimes that target a specific group. However, when Todd has responded, “okay, then let’s do away with all enhanced penalties, including policeman or religions. Of course they respond, ‘No, no, no we can’t do that!’” The position is hypocritical in her view. If Christians or Muslims are protected, why not gays who are more commonly and openly targeted?
This amendment is one part of what Representative Todd calls the “Fairness Package.” This set of legislation will protect gays and transgendered people from discrimination, bullying, and hate crimes. She says it’s a difficult fight, but it is worth fighting.