By Michelle Dupler, Herald staff writer
OLYMPIA -- The same day a Colorado man became the first in the nation to be convicted of the hate-crime murder of a transgender person, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a law paving the way for similar kinds of prosecutions in Washington.
Senate Bill 5952 added "transgender" to the definition of sexual orientation in the state's hate crime law, meaning people who commit violent crimes against someone because of gender identity or expression can be charged with hate crimes and face harsher penalties.
Washington on Wednesday became the 12th state to have such a law.
"The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community gained much needed protection today," said Sen. Joe McDermott, D-Seattle, the bill's sponsor. "No crime against another person is acceptable. But our laws recognize that some crimes are particularly heinous and deserve harsher punishment."
Statistics from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs show reported acts of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people rose 24 percent in 2007 nationwide, and 16 percent of those were motivated by anti-transgender bias.
Mark Lee, executive director of Vista Youth Center in Kennewick, said the law is important because it protects people who might be more often targeted for violence.
"When I think about the youth most often harassed or abused, they almost always are people who are non-gender conforming," Lee said. "An effeminate boy is much more likely to be harassed than a straight-acting gay boy."