Seeking to end hate crimes loophole: city edition

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau testified in City Council before its public safety committee Tuesday on behalf of a new bill introduced to close the gaping loophole left when the state Supreme Court stripped hate crimes protections for LGBT and disabled people from the state code.

Bill No. 140720, introduced by City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown and Councilman Jim Kenney would expand the city’s laws to include hate crimes penalties. Atop of whatever sentence the initial crime calls for, 90 more days and up to $2,000 would be added if it is determined to be a hate crime.

While the violent Center City gay bashing on Sept. 11 spurred a lot of attention for LGBT rights, the legislation also has an eye on people with disabilities, who also find themselves victims of hate crimes too often, statistics and advocates report.

Charles Horton Jr., executive director of the Mayor’s Commission on People with Disabilities, and Thomas Earle, president and CEO of Liberty Resources Inc.were among those testifying in support of the bill. Earle also serves as chair of PCHR.

There remain some questions on the legal construction of the bill in getting to the outcome desired by lawmakers, as raised by Capt. Francis Healy of the Philadelphia Police Department. Still, Healy, like Landau, spoke of the need to establish meaningful law to address hateful perpetrators.

Capt. Francis Healy (l.) and PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau (r.) testify at a committee meeting Tuesday on a proposed hate crimes bill offered by City Council.

Capt. Francis Healy (l.) and PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau (r.) testify at a committee meeting Tuesday on a proposed hate crimes bill offered by City Council.

“This would not be the first time Philadelphia is taking a leadership role to address issues of inequality,” Landau said. “But with any hope, what is proposed here soon will be mirrored and enacted on the state level. Still, I am convinced that regardless of the outcomes in Harrisburg,

“Philadelphia must continue its historic role of building and assuring tolerance for each and every resident and visitor here – and detail consequences for those who violate our shared values.”

It was an emotional day for Landau, as she spoke amid occasional tears. Gloria Casarez, the city’s LGBT affairs director, had planned on attending, if not testifying at this hearing; cancer robbed her of that chance last Sunday.

Read the full PCHR testimony here.

The committee unanimously approved the bill, which will go to the full City Council as early as next week.

PCHR remembers Gloria Casarez, city’s LGBT affairs director

PHILADELPHIA, October 20, 2014 – The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations joins countless individuals and organizations across the city and nation mourning the passing of Gloria Casarez, director of LGBT affairs for the Nutter Administration after her long bout with cancer. She was 42 and survived by her wife, Tricia Dressel.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, a Casarez colleague and friend of 20 years, offered these thoughts:

“Gloria focused her work on all people facing oppression, particularly people of color – or, as she would say, ‘black and brown people.’ She knew that many laws and policies currently in place do not benefit communities of color and the less connected, and she spent her entire professional career fighting to change that.

“As for the LGBT community, Gloria made sure to give a special voice to the trangender community, because so often they were shut not only out of the broader lesbian and gay community, but were so completely marginalized by all of society – especially trans men and women of color.

“During the mayor’s announcement of her appointment, she made it a point to fill the Mayor’s Reception Room with every segment of the LGBT community. That’s because she wanted to send a message that City Hall was open for everybody.

“She was such a wonderful mentor to many, many young people. She made colleagues friends and her friends became family. She was a fierce warrior and a friend beloved by many, of all colors, gay, straight and anywhere between. Her humor and her passion will sorely be missed, but we will continue her fight to ensure inclusive, nondiscriminatory policies that affirm and advance everyone. Gloria wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Mayor Michael A. Nutter ordered that the rainbow flag that had been hoisted for LGBT history month be lowered to half-staff at 1 p.m. today.

PCHR is the agency charged with diffusing inter-group conflict within the city and ensure fair dealings in employment, housing, public accommodations and real estate, as outlined in the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance, Philadelphia’s guiding civil rights legislation.

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(l-r) PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau and LGBT Affairs Director Gloria Casarez often raised their voices and worked together to help ensure inclusion and fairness in city policies.

PCHR warns about rising discrimination against immigrants based on Ebola rumors

The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations doesn’t want increased concerns about possible Ebola outbreaks to coincide with hostile or illegal treatment of African immigrants. Anyone witnessing or experiencing that is encouraged to report the situation to PCHR.Ebola

“This is one of those situations where a rumor can turn into an ugly action and innocent people wind up persecuted by their neighbors, and already vulnerable and marginalized people feel even further isolated,” said Rue Landau, PCHR executive director. “Working together, we can help keep things from spiraling out of control, so that foolish, daily comments don’t escalate into something worse.”

Last Thursday, City Council Majority Leader Curtis Jones Jr. held hearings to explore the city’s readiness for a possible Ebola outbreak. An array of public safety officials outlined their assessment of both the potential exposure threat and planned response, should a case be reported in Philadelphia.

The infectious and fast-moving disease already has claimed one life on American soil, with two additional health care workers who had attended that victim also suffering from the virus. Global officials have pointed to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia as the center of the outbreak.

Since 2006, Philadelphia has laid claim to the largest Liberian population in the United States. Many of those who emigrated here fled war in their homeland but may still travel to visit family.

Public threats of the past – from the 1793 yellow fever epidemic to the 9/11 attacks – at times have included elements of ethnic fear or intolerance, Landau said. With mounting breathless news reports about possible outbreaks of the virus, there’s room for backlash fueled by unfortunate and erroneous information and rumor.

“We realize that some immigrants, based on their life’s experiences, may not voluntarily speak up when they’re facing trouble. They might be suspicious, especially of government officials,” Landau said. “We get it. But if you’re being harassed or intimidated, call us. Don’t be afraid. We can – and will – help bring order and restore harmony, to a school, to a block or a neighborhood. That’s what we do.”

PCHR is the agency charged with diffusing inter-group conflict within the city and ensure fair dealings in employment, housing, public accommodations and real estate, as outlined in the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance, Philadelphia’s guiding civil rights legislation.

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Honoring LGBT History Month

October opens Human Relations Month in Philadelphia as well as commemorates LGBT History Month. PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau was at City Hall to honor both, along with Mayor Michael A. Nutter, LGBT Affairs Director Gloria Casarez and a host of LGBT advocates and activists. City Council members Maria Quiñones-Sanchez, Dennis O’Brien, Mark Squilla and David Oh also were among those on hand for the 5th annual rainbow flag raising.

The work of groups such as the Mazzoni Center, GALAEI, Philadelphia Gay Black Pride and the Greater Philadelphia Flag Football League was praised at the ceremony. The Rev. Jeffrey H. Jordan-Pickett of Metropolitan Community Church of Philadelphia provided words of encouragement — and reminders.

While there have been a host of wins in the past year — from the city’s historic and landmark policies for LGBT employees to marriage equality — the vicious Sept. 11 attack on a gay couple in Center City underscores that more work lies ahead.

Those sentiments were echoed throughout the event, which concluded with an impassioned plea from Mayor Nutter that a major election is just a month away, and “change comes when you change the people making the policies.”

As the assembled reflected on the past and set their sights on the future, the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus led the crowd in a rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner as the rainbow flag was hoisted, to cheers.

(l-r) PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau and LGBT Affairs Director Gloria Casarez open LGBT History Month at City Hall.

(l-r) PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau and LGBT Affairs Director Gloria Casarez open LGBT History Month at City Hall.

Mayor Michael A. Nutter speaks to the importance of valuing and embracing all cultures and all Americans -- regardless of color, creed, heritage, ethnicity or orientation.

Mayor Michael A. Nutter speaks to the importance of valuing and embracing all cultures and all Americans — regardless of color, creed, heritage, ethnicity or orientation.

Check out a snippet of joyous sounds offered by the renowned Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus

PCHR helps celebrate vital civic organization

For the past 25 years, Victims/Witness Services of South Philadelphia has tried to help balance the scales of justice as both a guide and advocate for those thrust into the criminal justice system at one of their most vulnerable times.

On Thursday, this collection of civic-minded workers and supporters celebrated their silver anniversary hosting a fundraising dance party at Galdo’s Catering and Entertainment. In the crowd was PCHR’s Bunrath Math.

Not only does he represent PCHR on the board as a member of the community relations division, but his contribution to the group is personal as well.

Once, Math was brutally attacked and robbed. Lying in the hospital, without a job or insurance at the time, he remembered a workshop he had attended that mentioned the work of VWSSP. After he was discharged, he looked them up, and found help for his medical bills and other valuable support in the days and weeks after the attack.

“I have a graduate degree and barely knew about this resource. I can just imagine people who have no education and become crime victims, that they suffer in silence,” Math said. “And for immigrants it may be really tough. There is the problem with language. You can’t afford not to go to work. So you have to work, and you go to work in pain.”

Plus, many of those same victims often have little faith in the system and assume that the police will do little to help them. Some fear that making a police report might actually put them in even greater danger if the assailant finds out.

That’s where VWSSP can make the difference.

PCHR's Bunrath Math joins VWSSP Executive Director Alison Sprague in celebration of the 25th anniversary of this innovative civic nonprofit.

PCHR’s Bunrath Math joins VWSSP Executive Director Alison Sprague in celebration of the 25th anniversary of this innovative civic nonprofit.

Among the free services the nonprofit organization offers:

  • Information and support services at preliminary hearings, including answering questions about court and police procedures.
  • Assistance navigating the criminal justice system, including the district attorney’s office, probation and parole, and other related agencies.
  • Accompanying victims and witnesses to trial and tracking progress of the case.

This and more is provided in English, Spanish and Vietnamese, reflecting the ever expanding and diversifying population.

“VWSSP helps so many people who otherwise would not know who to trust, or where to turn,” he said.

And it remains a stabilizing force after chaos strikes, hopefully for many more anniversaries to come.

Pushing to change Pennsylvania’s hate crime laws

Members of the state House Democratic Policy Committee came to Philadelphia on Thursday to explore the many issues surrounding Pennsylvania’s deficient hate crimes law.

The widely publicized Sept. 11 attack on a gay couple in Center City, as well as the citywide effort to arrest the offenders spearheaded by police and Twitter users, has focused many on the fact that Pennsylvania doesn’t protect LGBT or disabled people under its hate crimes provision. In 2008, the state Supreme Court struck the language from the code on a technicality on how the law was enacted.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau and PCHR Chair Thomas Earle testify at the state House Democratic Policy Committee hearing on LGBT and disability hate crimes.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau and PCHR Chair Thomas Earle testify at the state House Democratic Policy Committee hearing on LGBT and disability hate crimes.

Among the many presenters at the hearing, including Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams, PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau and PCHR Chair Thomas Earle offered joint testimony on the need to update the law.

“In many parts of Pennsylvania, for many reasons, this city is held as a beacon of hope,” Earle said. “But if something so horrible can happen here – in a cosmopolitan and progressive city – and without appropriately applied justice, it can dash hopes for those living in less tolerant areas of the state.

“We need this law amended.”

The PCHR testimony in full can be read here.

State Rep. Brian Sims helmed the hearing. He was joined by a host of colleagues, including state Reps. Stephen Kinsey (D-Philadelphia), Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery), Mark Longietti (D-Mercer), Dom Costa (D-Allegheny), Ron Waters (D-Philadelphia), Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny), Kevin Boyle (D-Philadelphia), Maria Donatucci (D-Philadelphia and Delaware), Pam DeLissio (D-Philadelphia and Montgomery), Mary Jo Daley (D-Montgomery), Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny and Westmoreland), Stephen McCarter (D-Philadelphia and Montgomery), Jarret Gibbons (D-Beaver, Butler and Lawrence) and Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster), the committee’s chair.

The Pennsylvania Legislature will adjourn on Nov. 30, ending a sine die session. Any bills that are not passed through both chambers and signed by the governor by that date will have to re-introduced in the new session. That includes House Bill 177, authored by state Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Philadelphia), who will be moving on to the U.S. Congress, and Senate Bill 42, authored by the now departing state Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny).

Pushing love over hate

The savage beating suffered by a gay couple in Center City two weeks ago has spurred more than local, national and global headlines in its wake. It boosted conversations about equality. It also has re-ignited a push to update state and local hate crimes laws.

Many were appalled to learn that defendants in the recent Center City case would not be charged with a hate crime, despite reports that they hurled homophobic slurs at the victims during an incident that sent both to the hospital, one with extensive facial wounds. Police can’t make those charges — because those provisions aren’t on the books in Philadelphia or Pennsylvania.

That loophole fueled hundreds of people to gather — in the rain — at the Love over Hate rally in the shadow of City Hall on Thursday afternoon. With the iconic LOVE sculpture behind them, lawmakers, civic leaders, law enforcement and PCHR Chair Thomas H. Earle expressed outrage and steps toward solutions in the aftermath of the beating.

PCHR Chair Thomas H. Earle applauds city and state lawmakers for not only advancing legislation to protect LGBT residents from hate crimes, but also those with physical and intellectual disabilities, who also suffer too often in silence. Rosalyn Still provided ASL translation for the event.

PCHR Chair Thomas H. Earle applauds city and state lawmakers for not only advancing legislation to protect LGBT residents from hate crimes, but also those with physical and intellectual disabilities, who also suffer too often in silence. Rosalyn Still provided ASL translation for the event.

“I’m trying not just to be pissed,” state Rep. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) told the crowd. “I’m trying to be resolute. Not just to be angry, but to be empowered.”

The state has been without LGBT protections in its hate crimes laws since 2008, when the state Supreme Court bounced that part of the law enacted in 2002 on a technicality over how it came to be.

State Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny) has been advancing bills to correct that, hoping to persuade colleagues to amend the state’s hate crimes laws. In his most recent version, Ferlo was joined by Philadelphia colleagues such as state Sens. LeAnna Washington, Larry Farnese, Anthony Hardy Williams, Shirley M. Kitchen and Tina Tartaglione.

State Reps. Brendan Boyle (D-Montgomery and Philadelphia) and Sims also have been pushing to update hate crimes statutes to include attacks based on sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

Earle noted at the rally, people with physical and intellectual disabilities also often terrorized in silence, be it a blind person whose seeing eye dog is deliberately poisoned or someone with an intellectual disability being targeted for assault.

The murder of 21-year-old Christian Massey in Delaware County and the the rape and murder of Christina Sankey are but two widely publicized cases that shook the region and the nation. Many more, Earle and others note, happen every day without the fanfare — or wider protections.

City lawmakers already intend to up the ante.

On Thursday, City Councilwoman Blondell Reyndolds Brown and City Councilman Jim Kenney introduced a bill that would update city ordinances and include stricter penalties for hate crimes fueled by racism and bigotry and that target LGBT or disabled individuals. Support within the chamber has been overwhelming, Reynolds Brown said.

Kenney told the Philadelphia Daily News that, “Unless and until the commonwealth of Pennsylvania extends protections to LGBT Pennsylvanians, then Philadelphia has a responsibility to do whatever is in our power to protect our LGBT folks Right now, they are not protected.”

City Council President Darrell L. Clarke put it even plainer during the LOVE Park rally. “If you can’t figure out a way to conduct yourself in the city of Philadelphia, don’t come here. We will not stand for that.”