A Republican state representative in Mississippi has called on her fellow lawmakers to update the state’s hate crime laws to include protections for sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability in the wake of some recent crimes that appear to have been motivated by anti-LGBTQ bias.
Rep. Missy McGee (R-Hattiesburg), who co-sponsored a bill to update the state’s hate crimes laws earlier this year, took to Facebook last month to post about a recent attack against a man in her district, wishing the victim a speedy recovery and adding: “[T]his kind of behavior does not represent Hattiesburg.”
“For me, it is incomprehensible how someone could be attacked simply on the basis of sexual orientation,” McGee wrote. “Mississippi needs its existing hate-crimes statute to include sexual orientation, gender identity and disability (as the federal law already does). Bills to do that failed to get a vote in committee in both the House and Senate. However, we intend to try again next year and every year after, until it gets done.”
The hate crimes bill, introduced by Rep. Abe Hudson, Jr. (D-Shelby), eventually died in the Judiciary Committee.
A similar Senate bill emerged from the Senate Judiciary Committee on a unanimous vote, only to die in the Senate Corrections Committee, reports the Jackson Free Press.
Besides the Hattiesburg incident, headlines in the Magnolia State have shone light on another attack, this one against a Waynesboro, Miss., man who is not gay but was perceived as such by two men who lured him back to one man’s home and beat him.
If Mississippi had an updated hate crimes law, proponents argue, the men could face additional penalties for their attack against the victim, whose injuries were so extensive he had to have his jaw wired shut.
Under current law, hate crime charges can only be brought on the federal level if the perpetrators crossed state lines.
Rob Hill, state director of the Human Rights Campaign for Mississippi, recently penned an editorial for the Clarion Ledger arguing that lawmakers should amend the hate crime statute.
“The tragic reality is, while LGBTQ Mississippians are not protected under state hate crimes law, we are far more likely to be victims of hate crimes — not less,” Hill wrote. “In the past few years alone, Mississippi has faced a horrific, disproportionately high number of anti-transgender crimes, including the deaths of Mercedes Williamson, Mesha Caldwell, and Dee Whigham.
“Mercedes Williamson was just seventeen when she was killed; her convicted murderer says he’s ‘secure with his relationship with god’ and that Mercedes ‘is now in hell.’ Mesha Caldwell’s violent death in 2017 is still unsolved; Mesha was described by a friend as ‘a happy person …who never met a stranger.’ Dee Whigham was stabbed over 190 times; her assailant was allowed to take a plea deal. Dee’s mother said ‘I think the plea is a slap in the face. He gets a chance to see his family and I don’t have that chance with my child.’
“Of these three tragic deaths, the only case that could be brought as a federal hate crime was Mercedes because her killer crossed state lines,” Hill continues. “While the federal hate crimes law, the Shepard-Byrd Act, is critically important, its reach is limited. Local state crimes legislation can make the difference in a prosecutor’s and investigator’s ability to close the case or punish the guilty. For those it does not reach — like Mesha, like Dee, and countless others — we are left without answers. And their families are left without justice.”
Hill also reiterated past criticisms of politicians who oppose pro-LGBTQ legislation, writing, with regard to the hate crimes bill: “The politicians who refuse to act to protect us are playing politics with people’s lives. They’re endangering Mississippians — people with dreams for a bright future, who go to work expecting to come home safe, people with friends, families, churches, and communities who will grieve for their lost loved one every day.”
A Mason-Dixon poll earlier this year found bipartisan support for a measure, like the one co-sponsored by McGee, that would extend hate crimes protections to LGBTQ and disabled Mississippians, with a plurality of Republicans and a supermajority of Democrats supporting the legislation.