Post, Tribune endorse adding sexual orientation to federal hate-crime law

In the wake of Colorado’s first successful prosecution of a hate-crime law against the killer of a transgender murder victim, both The Denver Post and The Greeley Tribune say it’s time to pass national legislation that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal anti-bias laws.

Calling the conviction of Allen Andrade in the brutal slaying of transgender teen Angie Zapata “a milestone in the battle against hate crimes,” the Post editorial board opines that the jury’s swift verdict should “inject some urgency into the movement to expand federal hate-crime laws to include offenses based on sexual orientation.”

The legislation — known as the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act and sometimes called the Matthew Shepard Act — passed out of the House Judiciary Committee the day after a Greeley jury convicted Andrade on a state hate-crime charge and is expected to face a vote of the full House this week.

“This measure is long overdue, and we hope it continues to move forward in Congress,” The Post writes.

The beating death of Zapata, who was born male but lived as a woman, has revived debate about the need for hate-crime laws. Some argue it unfairly creates a hierarchy of victimization. However, that argument ignores intent, which always has been a part of assessing penalties in our criminal justice system.

There is a difference between beating someone to steal their purse and pummeling them because of their sexual orientation. The latter involves a heightened level of malicious intent that is intended to inspire fear or send a message of intolerance to a community.

Andrade’s bone-chilling jailhouse statements seem to fit that bill. He said that “gay things need to die,” and that he “killed it.”

The Greeley Tribune reaches the same conclusion after observing the Andrade trial and conviction in its own backyard.

We hope this conviction will bring a sense of closure and justice for the family of Angie Zapata, who devotedly attended these proceedings and gave emotional testimony at Andrade’s sentencing hearing.

We also hope this trial will bring attention to efforts to pass a national hate-crime law. Singling out any individual or group for violence because of appearance, race, ethnicity, religious or lifestyle choice is heinous. These criminals must be subjected to the stiffest of punishments.

So far, only U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat, is listed among the bill’s House co-sponsors. Polis, an openly gay man first elected to Congress last fall, came out strongly in favor of the federal hate-crimes law in a column the week before the Andrade trial got under way:

More than 125 incidents of anti-gay or anti-transgender violence occurred in Colorado in 2008 alone. With numbers like that, it’s evident that this type of trial was unfortunately bound to occur at some point.

That is why today, people throughout Colorado should join to say, “No more.” While we might disagree on many things politically regarding the legal status of unions or service in the military, we can all agree that targeting someone for violence and murder because that person is gay or transgender has no place in our country and certainly no place in Colorado.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, the Eldorado Springs Democrat who held Polis’ seat for a decade before winning election to the upper chamber last year, has also gone on record supporting the national hate-crime bill.

Read our continuing coverage of the Zapata murder trial.

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Ernest Luning

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