January 13, 2017 at 4:40 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Herring launches initiative to fight hate crimes in Va.

Mark Herring, gay news, Washington Blade, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, Obergefell v. Hodges, gay news, Washington Blade, Virginia

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring on Jan. 13, 2017, announced an initiative that seeks to combat hate crimes in his state. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring on Friday announced an initiative designed to combat hate crimes in the state.

Herring unveiled www.NoHateVA.com, a website that provides information about hate crimes and resources for victims, during a press conference at his office in Richmond. Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish and Imad Damaj of the Islamic Center of Virginia are among those who were in attendance.

Herring on Friday held a second press conference at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center in Sterling.

“No Virginian should be singled out for abuse, harassment or mistreatment because of who they are, what they look like, how they worship, where they come from, or whom they love,” said Herring in a press release. “Hate crimes violate the civil liberties of victims and are contrary to the very founding principles of our commonwealth and our country. I want every Virginian to know that I will always stand up for them and their right to live, work, worship, and love without fear, harassment or discrimination.”

Anti-LGBT hate crimes ‘pervasive issue’

The press release notes there were 155 reported “hate crime offenses” in Virginia in 2015, which represents a 21 percent increase over the previous year. Statistics from the Virginia State Police indicate 22 of these reported incidents were based on sexual orientation.

Virginia’s hate crimes law is not LGBT-inclusive.

State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington County), state Del. Rip Sullivan (D-Fairfax County) and Herring on Friday announced a bill that would add sexual orientation, gender identity and disability to the statute.

The press release that Herring’s office release says “this more inclusive definition will more closely match the federal definition” of a hate crime, which has included sexual orientation and gender identity since President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009. It also noted the bill would provide the Virginia State Police with a “more complete set of hate crimes to be tracked annually,” allow prosecutors to seek enhanced penalties against those who are charged with committing hate crimes and enable their victims to sue them.

“Hate crimes against gay and transgender individuals are a pervasive issue and make people fear to live in their own communities,” said Parrish in a statement. “Expanding hate crime laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity sends a message that violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people isn’t okay.”

Favola, state Del. Lamont Bagby (D-Henrico County) and Herring on Friday also announced a bill that would allow him to investigate and prosecute hate crime cases through Virginia’s multi-jurisdictional grand jury network.

“Virginians should not fear for their safety because of who they are, what they look like, where they come from, or how they pray,” said Bagby.

Friday’s press conferences took place a week before President-elect Trump’s inauguration.

The Republican billionaire continues to face criticism over his anti-immigrant rhetoric and his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who Trump has nominated to succeed outgoing U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, has opposed LGBT rights throughout his career. The U.S. Senate in 1986 rejected the Alabama Republican’s nomination for a federal judgeship amid allegations of racism.

“The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division has been a powerful force for protecting Americans and Virginians from hate and discrimination,” said Herring. “It is my sincere hope that the new administration and the next attorney general will continue that bipartisan commitment, but if they choose to step back from that important responsibility even an inch, I want to work with our commonwealth’s attorneys to make sure that Virginians’ rights are protected in the communities they call home.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

1 Comment
  • Kudos to Mark Herring!

    It is critical that Virginia’s Attorney General and all of the Commonwealth’s County Sheriff’s and PDs broadcast to national businesses, potential investors/employers and convention/meeting tourism directors that Virginia is not a hate state.

    The last thing the Commonwealth needs is to follow North Carolina Repuplicans’ disastrous state-sponsored bigotry and discrimination. Virginia must be seen to be modern, diverse, open and welcoming to the business, trade and tourism of all.

    When state AGs and their county prosecutors go after hate crimes perpetrators, sexual assaults, stalking crimes and bullying in schools, well it really telegraphs a welcoming message. Businesses, institutions and investors know that their managers, employees and their families will be happier, more secure– and are likely to be more productive.

    LGBTQs throughout Virginia should generously support Mark Herring’s reelection as Attorney General. He’s always stood up for us!

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