Anti-Gay attacks not considered hate crimes in West Virginia

Zackary Johnson and Casey Williams were allegedly attacked by dismissed Marshall University running back Steward Butler during a visit to Huntington, WV.  PHOTO CREDITS: WSAZ via NY Daily News

Back in April 2015, a terrible hate crime was committed against two gay students in West Virginia. Steward Butler, a college student and running back with the Marshall University football team, was riding with some friends when he spotted the couple kissing on the sidewalk. He yelled out several homophobic slurs to the two young men and then got out of his car and punched them in the face, knocking one man to the ground.   This was clearly a crime committed based on the sexual orientation of the couple. Despite that fact, last week, the Supreme Court of West Virginia ruled that anti-gay assaults are not covered in the state’s law for hate crimes. The court came to this decision because the definition of hate crime in West Virginia law doesn’t include the phrase “sexual orientation” and only specifies “sex” as a covered category. On account of this technicality, one Justice who disagreed said:  

"The pertinent question is not whether the statute contains the words "sexual orientation." Rather, it is whether the crime was committed because of the victims' sex," ~ Justice Margaret L. Workman in her dissent

This lack of legal protection for the LGBTQ community in West Virginia follows a long history of resistance in the state legislature. LGBTQ advocates have tried adding "sexual orientation" to its hate crime law 26 times since 1993, but this change has always been rejected by lawmakers. According to the NY Times, “West Virginia is one of only six states with a hate crime law that includes sex in its protections but not sexual orientation or gender identity.”   This great injustice comes at a time when attacks on LGBTQ persons make up roughly 20% of reported hate crimes according to statistics compiled by the F.B.I. in 2015. What can we do as peacemakers to help extinguish intolerance and protect our LGBTQ peers?   Join a community of peacemakers and create a project to address LGBTQ injustice today!