New amendment would add gender identity to Illinois hate crimes law

Illinois Capitol building. Photo: Deepak

Illinois Rep. Kelly M. Cassidy (14th Dristrict) introduced an amendment to the Illinois Criminal Code of 1961, which would add protections for gender identity, military status and immigration status to the state’s hate crimes law.

HB4725, filed in the General Assembly Feb. 3, is the result of efforts among Illinois lawmakers and local LGBT activists, including members of The Civil Rights Agenda, who authored the bill.

“As a member organization of the LGBTQ Immigration Coalition and as an organization that works with many transgender individuals that have experienced crimes motivated by hate and discrimination, as well as an organization that fought for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and is committed to the needs of LGBT service members and veterans, we recognized that hate crimes protection in Illinois must be expanded,” said TCRA Executive Director, Anthony Martinez.

“One of my personal goals as an activist in the LGBT community is to ensure the expansion of trans rights in Illinois and throughout the nation,” Martinez told Chicago Phoenix.

Transgender women make up 44 percent of all LGBT murder victims, according to a July 2011 study by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. The study also found a 13 percent increase in anti-LGBT hate crimes in 2010, and suggests that many more go unreported. More than half of survivors of hate crimes did not report it to the police, said the same study.

“Many of the transgender folks who come to us, especially transgender women, say that they don’t feel comfortable reporting an assault because they think they are either going to face police harassment,” said Martinez. “Or they are not going to be seen as a victim but as the person who brought on the attack.”

In addition, the NCAVP study found that over 60 percent of victims say they were met by “indifference, abusive or deterrent” when reporting a hate crime. This response was most common among transgender people of color, according to the study.

If the amendment is passed, crimes against victims because of their gender identity, military status or immigration status will be, “accorded weight in favor of imposing a term of imprisonment or may be considered by the court as reasons to impose a more severe sentence,” according to the bill summary.

Rick Garcia, a longtime local activist, played a vital role in developing the new legislation. Months ago, Garcia approached June LaTrobe, the public policy director at Illinois Gender Advocates, about whether or not gender idenity was included in the Illinois Hate Crimes Act. After further discussions with Rocco Claps, the director of the Illinois Department of Human Rights, they approached newly-appointed Rep. Cassidy with a plan for an amendment, according to Garcia.

“And so we went to Kelly Cassidy, and she said, ‘Sign me up,’” Garcia said. Thus launched the effort to draft a bill.

“We were very, very pleased that Kelly so quickly stood up, and with the help of Anthony Martinez, prepared legislation to get gender identity added to the act,” said LaTrobe. “For Kelly to make an announcement about it in the middle of a contested race is very impressive.”

Cassidy will go up against Paula Basta, Regional Director for the City of Chicago Department on Aging, in the March primary election. Both candidates are staging weekly campaign events while attending to their current jobs.

“This amendment to the hate crimes bill will create a truly inclusive act that will give law enforcement the tools they need to protect victims who are targeted based on who they are,” Cassidy said.

“Here is the issue,” Garcia said. “In Cook County, the last three states attorneys, have always looked out for — and the culture has been to include — gender identity under sexual orientation protections. Illinois has over 100 counties, and the way Cook County responds to hate crimes is very different than how other counties respond to hate crimes.”

Garcia said the bill was designed to equally protect every citizen of Illinois. LaTrobe, however, emphasized the bill’s implications for the transgender community.

“On a very personal level, I have never had an issue,” LaTrobe said. “However, I work at the Center on Halsted and with the Lakeview Action Coalition with young people. Particularly, young tans women of color. These kinds of challenges are just – they don’t even think about it – of course it happens. To provide this kind of protection for trans women of color, this legislation is very, very, very important.”

So far, Rep. Greg Harris (13th District), Rep. Deb Mell (40th District) and Rep. Edward J. Acevedo (2nd District) have been added as co-sponsors.

“The bottom line: People who are victims of hate crimes because of their gender identity are not officially protected under the state’s hate crimes bill, which is one of the strongest in the country,” Garcia said. “And so we are just going to beef it up and make it really, the best one in the country.”