Arson Fire Destroys Montana Home of Lesbian Couple|
Case Shows the Need to Strengthen Federal Laws Against Hate Crimes
February 12, 2002
by NOW Staff
Last Monday, Carla Grayson and Adrianne Neff joined a number of University of Montana employees and their partners in suing the university system for not extending health insurance and other benefits to same-sex couples.
Four days later at 3 a.m., someone broke into their Missoula home, poured a flammable liquid throughout the house, and set it on fire. Awakened by a smoke alarm, Grayson and Neff grabbed their 22-month-old son and escaped through a window. The house was gutted.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the university employees in the lawsuit, believes arsonists targeted Grayson and Neff who received threatening letters in the days after the suit was filed because they are lesbians and were named as lead plaintiffs in the suit.
Leaders of the National Organization for Women said the Montana fire underscores the need to amend existing hate crimes statutes to include sexual orientation and gender-bias crimes. Montana's hate crimes law, the Malicious Intimidation and Harassment Act, cannot be applied to the case because the law does not include hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation.
"Hate crimes are intended to intimidate and silence an entire group," said NOW Membership Vice President Terry O'Neill. "Congress has managed to define penalties for assaults motivated by race or religious bias it must do the same for crimes motivated by sexual orientation bias."
NOW and other civil rights, religious and community organizations have renewed their call to Congress to pass the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act (LLEEA, S. 625), formerly the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. LLEEA would strengthen existing federal provisions against crimes based on race, religion or ethnicity by removing the current requirement that the victim be engaged in a "federally protected activity" such as voting. It would also extend the current law to cover hate crimes based on sex, sexual orientation and disability.
"The fire at the Grayson-Neff house sent a message: No one is safe," O'Neill said. "We must continue to fight to protect against hate crimes, and we will not rest until all people, of all sexual orientations, can live their lives in peace."
Contact your Senators and ask them to support the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act (S.625) when it comes up for a vote.
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