EDITORIAL: Legislature should include gender identity in hate-crimes law

Keywords Editorials / Opinion

IBJ recently urged the Legislature to pass a hate-crimes law to eliminate Indiana’s stigma as one of five states without one. Now, just weeks before the 2019 session is about to begin, we call on lawmakers to include gender identity as one of the categories of bias specifically included in such a law.

Gov. Eric Holcomb, a cheerleader for a hate-crimes law, said this month he supports including gender identity in the legislation, which would make clear judges’ authority to impose harsher penalties on crimes motivated by specific types of biases. The governor’s comments came after House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said including that language will cause social conservatives to rebel against the bill, making it difficult to pass.

In fact, Bosma said at an Indiana Chamber of Commerce legislative preview event that including gender identity in a hate-crimes law could result in a “big knock-down, drag-out, RFRA-esque discussion” that could stymie the legislation and lead to negative publicity for the state.

His reference to RFRA—the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—was intended to remind business leaders in particular about the economic impact a public fight about an LGBT issue could have on Indiana. In 2015, the Legislature faced outrage from across the country when it passed RFRA, which critics said would have allowed discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

At the urging of business leaders, the Legislature quickly passed a “fix,” intended to prevent discrimination. But some damage had already been done—to the state’s reputation but also to its economy, especially in the convention business.

The specter that a debate about including gender identity in a hate-crimes bill could bring additional national attention to the state is unfortunate. However, that’s no reason to avoid a debate about the issue. And passing a hate-crimes law that doesn’t include bias against transgender people will almost certainly bring unwanted attention on the state, anyway.

IBJ supports a vigorous debate that considers all arguments, and we hope the outcome is legislation that includes gender identity.

But we don’t believe a hate-crimes law should be scuttled if lawmakers can’t agree on including gender identity. Indiana has gone too long without any hate-crimes law at all (although judges can now enhance penalties based on almost any factor).

It’s time to get Indiana off the list of states without a hate-crimes law. Period.

Politically, it would be smart to get the law on the books and—if necessary—come back later to amend it. That will likely happen over time, anyway, as society changes.

It’s worth noting that only 15 of the 45 states with a hate-crimes law include gender identity in their language, according to Human Rights Campaign. Many laws were passed before the public understood much about gender-identity issues. Now, we know much more about the struggles of people whose sense of identity does not correspond to their gender at birth.

Passing a law without gender identity would be short-sighted—although the easier thing to do is get it right the first time.•


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