Victory at Last
[PHILADELPHIA, PA] - The success of the hate-crimes bill, which Gov. Mark Schweiker signed Dec. 3, didn't happen over night.
The success of the hate-crimes legislation wasn't driven by one person or one group.
The passage of House Bill 1493 - which amends the current Ethnic Intimidation Act to include protections for sexual and gender minorities - was the culmination of a multi-year effort by many activists who successfully worked to educate and organize a bipartisan coalition of the commonwealth's lawmakers.
It is also a lesson on how to make the political process work for our community in the future.
With 81 statewide hate crimes against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities reported last year, and 27 states with inclusive laws, one would think that hate-crimes legislation in Pennsylvania would be an easy victory.
But with a conservative majority in the legislature that is largely accountable to the religious right, Pennsylvania is not an easy state for any gay-rights initiative to pass.
This week's unprecedented victory is the result of a steady grass- roots initiative led by a diverse statewide coalition of activists.
Leading the effort were Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights executive director Stacey Sobel, Statewide Pennsylvania Rights Coalition co-chair Steve Glassman, Pennsylvania Gender Rights Coalition co-chair Mara Keisling and Pennsylvania Gay and Lesbian Alliance for Political Action political director Steve Black.
Over its five-year process, these leaders and many others tirelessly worked the bill, knocking on doors, sitting down to meetings, making telephone calls and sending out e-mails, establishing personal contact with legislators and their staffers.
This communication ensured that legislators got the true message of what hate-crimes legislation would mean: providing protections for people who are targeted for hate - not taking away people's right to free speech, as some opponents suggested.
Activists sought community members who had been victims of hate crimes to contact their representatives and share their personal stories.
They spread the word to sexual and gender minorities, encouraging them to contact their lawmakers, and to vote for gay-friendly candidates.
And most importantly, activists were on the front lines, using the relationships they established with legislators and their staffs to put a human face on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.
That relationship is something members of the community can further develop in future battles, whatever they may be. Also, it is something that the legislators and their staffers can use, too. Now they know what a lesbian looks like.
As much as the legislation itself, fostering those relationships stands as a victory for our community.