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Today, HRC called for Mississippi state Sen. Briggs Hopson to bring up SB 2576 for a vote in the Senate’s Judiciary A committee. The measure would add sexual orientation, gender identity and disability to the existing statewide hate crimes law. Sen. Hopson’s reluctance to bring up this bill, which would provide hate crimes protections for members of the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities, is especially striking after the same committee brought up a bill that adds enhanced penalties for people who participate in dog fighting. As Sen. Hopson stands in the way of this bill, a bipartisan majority of the committee has already committed to voting for this crucial update to Mississippi’s hate crimes law, which would simply bring it up to the federal standard.

“All Mississippians deserve equal justice under the law, and SB 2576 is a much-needed remedy to the shortcomings of our current state hate crimes law,” said Rob Hill, HRC Mississippi state director. “Without enumerating sexual orientation, gender identity and disability, the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities will continue to be under-protected when they are targeted simply because of who they are. After this committee advanced a bill aimed at harsher penalties for dog fighting, we have to ask: does Sen. Hopson care more about the rights of animals than those of his fellow Mississippians? We implore Sen. Hopson and Judiciary A to bring this bill to a vote in committee -- it’s the right thing to do.”

Mississippi, like most states in the South, does not have statewide hate crimes laws that are inclusive of sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. This makes it more difficult for law enforcement to adequately prosecute perpetrators of bias-motivated crimes and deliver justice to victims and their families. Recently, Mississippi has faced a tragic, disproportionate number of anti-transgender crimes, including the highly-publicized murders of Mercedes Williamson, Mesha Caldwell and Dee Whigham. Out of those three murders, only Mercedes Williamson’s was prosecuted under existing hate crimes laws, because the the perpetrator crossed state lines, making it a federal crime. Caldwell and Whigham were not able to receive full justice under the law because of the lack of protections for gender identity.

 

In 2014, HRC launched Project One America, an initiative geared towards advancing social, institutional and legal equality in Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas. HRC Mississippi continues to work to advance equality for LGBTQ Mississippians who have no state level protections in housing, workplace, or public accommodations. Through HRC Mississippi, we are working toward a future of fairness every day -- changing hearts, minds and laws toward achieving full equality.


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