Sexual-orientation hate crimes discussed
BY DAVID SCHULTE World Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
The shortcomings of the state's hate-crime laws in protecting people from harm because of their sexual orientation was addressed in a public forum Tuesday in the Oklahomans for Equality building.
More that 100 people attended the hate-crime forum, which was held in response to Robert Stotler and his partner's east Tulsa home being spray-painted with anti-gay messages on two different occasions in July.
Stotler was part of an eight-member panel Tuesday that included state Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre, D-Tulsa, Mana Tahaie of the Tulsa Say No to Hate Coalition and Lana Turner-Addison, director of human rights for the city of Tulsa.
The panel addressed several issues concerning Oklahoma hate-crime laws not protecting gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people.
Stotler shared with the audience how the messages "Gays Must Go" and "Gay Go Away" were spray-painted on his home, and how a pickup that belonged to a friend was set on fire at his home.
He then told the audience that police considered the damage to his home an act of vandalism because Oklahoma's hate-crime laws do not include sexual orientation.
"This law must be amended and sexual orientation must be included in Oklahoma's hate-crime laws," Stotler said. "We are not asking for special privileges, but equality."
The panel addressed gays and lesbians' fears of becoming potential targets and how the entire community is affected by a hate crime.
The Rev. Tamara Leback of All Souls Unitarian church said hate crimes are an "act of terrorism against a minority."
Laura Belmonte, president of Oklahomans for Equality, said that although hundreds of cities include sexual orientation within its hate-crime laws, gays and lesbians in Oklahoma feel vulnerable because they are not protected.
She also noted that a first-time offense for committing any hate crime is a misdemeanor in Oklahoma.
Turner-Addison said the city's position on hate crimes is to follow is to state law.
Panelists also addressed how to prevent others from becoming the "next victims of hate crimes."
Several panelists said the best thing people can do is contact national, state and local officials about changing hate-crime laws.
Tahaie said people should not stay silent because hate crimes perpetuate other acts of violence.
"It is your obligation to say something," Tahaie said.
David Schulte 581-8367