Friday, November 30, 2007

Wake Up Call For the Oklahoma GLBTF Community

You might have heard of the recent murder of a local gay man. Now charges are being filed, but not as a hate crime. Oklahoma is one of 17 states that does not include sexual orientation as a protected class. Our attorney general last year supported a national move to include sexual orientation as a federally protected class. Guess who vetoed it once it had bi-partisan support from the House and Senate? Now would be a good time for this issue to once again be addressed in Oklahoma. As long as people of the GLTB community are targeted because of who they are, need for legislation is needed. Look into what you can do to help support this issue and stay tuned for a planned vigil for Steven Domer. Here is an article that appeared on the NewsOK website today.

Man won't face hate-crime count

By Devona Walker
Staff Writer

The self-proclaimed general of a white supremacist gang has been charged with the murder of 62-year-old Steven Domer.

Authorities say Domer, who was apparently gay, was targeted because of his sexual orientation. In Oklahoma, however, this slaying does not constitute a hate crime.

Domer was last seen near NW 39 and Pennsylvania Avenue. Darrell Madden and Bradley Qualls reportedly went to the area on Oct. 26 to attack a gay person. Apparently, it was the only way Qualls could earn a "patch” in the gang, authorities allege.

That night they met and got into a car with Domer, authorities said. About 4:20 a.m. the following day, authorities found Domer's car in McClain County. It had been torched and was still burning when it was discovered. On Nov. 4, authorities found Domer's body in a ravine, within three miles of the car. Three days later, Madden was arrested in Ardmore, accused of shooting Qualls to death.

"The evidence we will present, and I think we will convict, will show that Mr. Domer was targeted because of his sexual orientation,” Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said.

The crime, however, will not be designated a hate crime.

Is the law toothless?
Authorities say Oklahoma's hate crime law has no teeth, has led to the routine underreporting of violent crimes that target gay people and does not consider gay people as a protected class. The crime is classified as a misdemeanor and has no provision for sentence enhancement.

"Let's say a gay man is attacked because he is gay. He looks at the law, it only carries a sentence of 90 days. He thinks this is just going to make them even more angry. He decides, ‘Why bother?'” Prater said. "We know that happens.

"We know that people are targeted clearly due to their sexual preference, but in Oklahoma, sexual preference isn't even a protected class,” he added.

Unlike many states that provided protections for gay people in the aftermath of the beating death of Matthew Shepherd, Oklahoma does not include sexual orientation in its hate crime statute.

Shepherd was a college student in Laramie, Wyo., whose October 1998 murder became one of the most infamous examples of a hate crime in recent history.

Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, later convicted of his death, met Shepherd at a gay bar in Laramie. They drove Shepherd to an open field, tied him to a fence, then beat him. Shepherd died days later in a Fort Collins, Colo., hospital.

Many laws not inclusive
Seventeen states do not provide hate crime protections for people targeted based on sexual orientation. Wyoming is among them.

Federal hate crime legislation also does not include sexual orientation as a protected class. Last spring, however, legislation addressing that omission and providing additional resources to local law enforcement to investigate such crimes passed the House and Senate with bipartisan support. That bill was endorsed by 30 attorneys general, including Drew Edmondson in Oklahoma, every major law enforcement union and the majority of the nation's district attorneys.

President Bush killed the legislation with a vow to veto it.

"Law enforcement knows they need it. They have said they need it,” said Brad Luna, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay civil rights organization. "Unfortunately, the religious right have taken this issue and politicized it in such a way. This is not a partisan issue. This is about the safety of our citizens and neighbors.”

Former state Rep. Don Ross tried unsuccessfully to have sexual orientation included in the state hate crime statute back in 1999. He was shut down by a 2-to-1 margin. At the time, legislators said it was unnecessary.

Does law deter reports?
According to law enforcement and gay advocates, the laws have led to underreporting of violence against gays.

"The reasons why gays and lesbians are targeted are very complex. What we do know is that these attacks tend to be much more brutal. And these are not just attacks against the individuals, but it's meant to send a signal to the entire community that you are not welcomed here, and that you are not safe in your own hometown,” Luna said. "When the government stands up and says, ‘We are not going to tolerate it,' that trickles down. When they don't stand up and say we are going to protect those individuals, that, too, certainly has an impact.”

Prater says the state's hate crime law is on "a fairly long list” of issues he wants to address with the state Legislature.

"I would love to see the hate crime statute in Oklahoma be an enhancement statute. And the Legislature has got to decide what classes of people they are going to protect,” he said.

The fact that murders and assaults targeting people based upon their sexual orientation still happen in Oklahoma indicates hate crime legislation is necessary, he said.

Rep. Al McAffrey is the first and only openly gay legislator in Oklahoma history.

"When you are talking about hate, hate is just hate. I don't care who it is. If you are assaulted because of your race, it's just the same as if you are assaulted because of your sexual orientation. You were assaulted because of hate,” McAffrey said. "I just don't understand how people can draw the line.”

Contributing: Staff Writer Jay Marks

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