Openly Gay Congressman Polis Unaware Federal Hate Crime Legislation Non-Existent [Updated]

jared-polis

More embarrassing news courtesy of a Colorado politician…

Jared Polis, the freshman Democratic Congressman from Colorado (whom I’ve posted about before) appeared in Austin, Texas two weeks ago at the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus. Local resident Randy Brown spoke to Congressman Polis about wanting to form a local Stonewall chapter in his area but noted that he had friends in rural areas that had already been the victims of hate crimes and feared ‘activism’ would make it worse. The exchange continued, according to the transcript, as such:

RANDY BROWN: Is Washington aware of the fact that people may get hurt? Because we might get hurt in the process of trying to just come out of the closet, just trying to help the process along. It’s a very, very frightening thing.

JARED POLIS: Have your local law enforcement agencies been helfpful in offering you protection when you feel threatened?

BROWN: No.

POLIS: They haven’t?

BROWN: No.

POLIS: This is one of the reasons we have a federal hate crimes law, for that very reason. Sometimes in some conservative areas they don’t prosecute hate crimes, so we have on the books a law that allows the federal government to prosecute those if your local DA refuses to. So you might want to report it to your federal attorney general for your area if you feel threatened and the local authorities are not investigating or don’t seem to care. You can turn to the federal government for investigation of potential hate crimes.

BROWN: They generally throw hate crimes right out the court window.

POLIS: Well, that’s what your local, that’s what the state does, but I’m saying there is a federal recourse for that. That’s the very reason we did it.

[AT THIS POINT, TEXAS STONEWALL PRESIDENT DAN GRANEY STANDS UP AND TELLS POLIS THAT THE MATTHEW SHEPARD ACT DIDN’T PASS.]

POLIS: Oh, it didn’t pass? OK. So we still need to pass it? OK. So we’ll try to pass that one for you, too. But that’s why we need it. And of course Obama supports that, our Congress supports that, our Senate supports that. I thought we did pass it, so we will try to get that. But that’s exactly why we need it though, because in some of the areas where gays and lesbians do feel terrorized every day, the local authorities are in league with the forces of hate. And this would, when we pass it — thanks for pointing that out — give you recourse to go to the federal government to investigate hate crimes in your area, and that’s why it’s so important.

John Wright, at the Dallas Voice, made the above transcription from a recording of the exchange (if you don’t see the below embed, MP3 audio here):

Wright wrote: “After the exchange, Polis told me he’d gotten confused because he knew the Shepard Act had passed Congress, and because protections against hate crimes based on sexual orientation are in place in his home state of Colorado.”

Hmm… ooookay…

According to Wikipedia, the Matthew Shepard Act did pass both the House, in May 2007, and the Senate, in September 2007. The bill was then added as an amendment to a military spending bill and President Bush signaled that he would veto the entire package if it came across his desk as such.  The Democratic leadership then dropped the Matthew Shepard amendment and sent the military spending bill along for Bush to sign. Senator Polis is correct in saying that the Act would currently have support in both the House and the Senate and President Obama has made it clear that he supports federal-level hate crimes legislation.

All objective journalistic fairness and benefit-of-the-doubt giving aside, this is still total bullshit and completely disgusting. I’m glad Polis knew the MSA passed the House but it can pass the House 400 goddamn times and not mean a damn thing if it doesn’t ever become law!

All gay men should know the rights they have and the rights they don’t have or are being denied. Many would think that having a Federal representative who was elected as a gay man – and could therefore freely advocate on our behalf – would represent a great progress and an enormous accomplishment.  Unfortunately, Polis has illustrated that this is not the case.  Simply “voting for the gay/black/Jewish guy/woman” because you presume he or she will advocate on your behalf is a horrible fallacy. While I’m sure Polis will vote in favor of such legislation when it happens to come across his desk, he obviously had no intention of proposing or lobbying for such legislation himself if he didn’t even know the legislation was still needed. I wonder what all the gay men and women in Colorado who voted for Polis are thinking right now.

So disappointing.

More: Wright’s two stories at the Dallas Voice here and here.

Also in recent posts on Colorado:
CO Pol: No HIV Tests For Mothers; An HIV+ Baby Will Be Punishment For Your Promiscuity
Being Gay = Being A Murderer and More GOP Fun!

UPDATE: Towleroad received a statement from Polis about the incident. It is:

“I too was rather surprised that rather reporting on my speech, all that was covered was the mistake. I talked about how we had succeeded in shifting Colorado from red to blue, and won important protections for our LGBT community including a hate crimes bill signed by our then-Republican governor, inclusive ENDA, and same sex adoption.

“I challenged Texas Democrats to do the same. Rather than covering any of this, all that was written about was my answer to that question. I had just finished talking about Colorado and our successes there, and my mind hadn’t made the shift yet to federal when I was asked the question and I gave the wrong answer. Talk to some of the attendees; I think they forgave the mistake right away as I was quick to correct it when pointed out and they focused on my message (apparently several of them didn’t remember that I had made a mistake, which is why the author later posted the audio).

“I’m a co-chair of the Equality Caucus here in US Congress and hate crimes is at the top of our agenda, and I expect action on it soon. I’m co-sponsoring the bill and have discussed it both within the Equality Caucus and as recently as today with leadership staff.

“It’s rather remarkable to me that this is getting so much play. Obviously I am well acquainted with hate crimes laws, ENDA, DADT, and other issues facing our community but we all sometimes make mistakes when we’re speaking, especially in this case when I had just finished talking about how we in Colorado had gotten a hate-crimes law.

“I didn’t just start working on these issues when I arrived in Congress, I’ve been an active supporter of HRC for years and advocated for the hate crimes law when it was being considered in Colorado.

“There’s no excuse for the mistake, but anyone who speaks a lot is bound to make them from time to time. What surprises me is how eagerly some people have leapt on it. We are on the same side, fighting the same fight, and supporting our LGBT community, as I was in Austin for the Stonewall Dems.”

Read the entire post at Towleroad.

John Wright, the journalist who originally reported the incident, responded to Polis’s statement, essentially stating that he was not on the “other side” of Polis in “the fight” but simply doing his job – reporting what happened. Read Wright’s full post here.

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