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Hate crime and anti-discrimination laws still needed to protect LGBT community

Brian Moulton and Michelle Litteken [Chief Legislative Counsel and Staff Counsel, Human Rights Campaign]: "The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) applauds the Department of Justice's (DOJ) statement regarding increased efforts to fight LGBT discrimination. In his speech to the Civil Rights Division, Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez said that the Department must "ensure that there's a level playing field in which our LGBT brothers and sisters are judged by the content of their character." Mr. Perez's speech gives the LGBT community hope that this administration will work to address the inequities LGBT people face on a daily basis.

At the same time, we recognize that these statements are insufficient without a legal basis for action; in order to protect us, the Civil Rights Division needs laws to enforce. HRC advocates every day for legislation that would bring LGBT people closer to full equality, including critical protections in the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Soon, the Civil Rights Division will be able to work with state and local law enforcement to ensure that hate crimes against LGBT people are fully investigated and prosecuted. In the coming weeks, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act will become law, expanding federal hate crimes law to cover bias-motivated violence based on sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability. The need to protect LGBT people is clear - according to FBI statistics, 15.9% of hate crime victims were targeted because of their sexual orientation in 2007 alone. One of the key reasons the hate crimes measure is so close to enactment - after 12 years of advocacy before Congress - is because the Obama administration has called for, and worked for, its passage.

Workplace discrimination is a similarly pervasive and disruptive problem facing LGBT people. While federal laws protect employees from workplace discrimination based on race, gender, age, religion, and disability, there are no clear protections for LGBT employees. As a result, in 29 states, an employee fired because of his sexual orientation would be left without any recourse; the same is true in 38 states for an employee denied a promotion because of her gender identity. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would address this inequity by providing basic protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment. As with hate crimes legislation, the leadership and advocacy of the administration will be critical in the effort to pass this critical bill. Until then, the Justice Department will not have the tools to turn the level playing field that Mr. Perez envisions into a reality for LGBT Americans.

HRC thanks the administration for its commitment to LGBT equality, as voiced by President Obama, Assistant Attorney General Perez, and many others. Real change will also require hard work and true leadership on Capitol Hill to see these critical protections become law. We look forward to working with our many allies in the administration to make that happen. "

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.

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