Bill would add gender identity protection to hate crime law

CARSON CITY ­— Sen. Pat Spearman, a North Las Vegas pastor and openly gay member of the Legislature, asked her colleagues on the Judiciary Committee on Monday to expand the state’s hate crime law to include victims of gender identity or expression.

Spearman, who spent 29 years in the U.S. Army, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel, told the panel of her experience as a victim of hate crime while jogging at age 21.

“In Petersberg, Virginia, two miles from Ft. Lee, I was accosted by a truck full of young white men who yelled inflammatory remarks at me, who threw glass at me, who turned around and came back looking for me, and the only thing that saved my life was my ability to belly crawl in a ditch at least seven blocks to get to home,” she said in testimony before the committee in support of Senate Bill 139.

Committee members questioned the value of adding gender identity and expression to the state’s criminal hate crime statute.

“Is this an important symbolic move or do you think there is a deterrent effect to this as well?” asked Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno.

Spearman, a Democrat, said passing the bill would act as a real deterrent to those who would commit crimes against people because of their gender identity.

“We can always say that, do we need to add something else to hate crimes,” she said. “But whenever crimes are committed by perpetrators and they are clearly committed only on the basis of a particular aspect of that person’s characteristics, then I think justice requires us to act.”

The bill would add a criminal enhancement of one to 20 years if a person willfully commits a number of listed felonies, including assault with a deadly weapon, because of a person’s gender identity or expression. It would enhance some misdemeanors to gross misdemeanors for the same reasons.

It would provide for civil recovery of actual and punitive damages if a person suffered injury from one of the listed crimes as a result of their gender identity.

It would require such crimes to be compiled by the state Department of Public Safety for the purposes of reviewing evidence of prejudice.

Nevada’s hate crime statute protects victims of crime motivated by race, color, religion and sexual orientation, among others. It would add gender identity and expression to that list.

Testifying in support of the bill was Elvira Diaz of Sparks, whose 8 -year-old son, Christian Arroyo, was born female. Diaz said the law would protect her son even if she were not there to care for him.

Diaz said her son is happy with his male identity.

Also testifying was Z Shane Zaldivar of Sparks, who is now legally male and married.

“The only fear that I have is that I know there is going to be a day when somebody, the wrong person, figures out that I am not who they don’t feel that I am,” Zaldivar said. “A hate crime is a hate crime, and to exclude the transgender community just reinforces their thought that we are second-class citizens.”

Several other witnesses testified in support of the bill. There was no testimony in opposition.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Tick Segerblom said he expects the bill will win passage this session. Action on the bill was delayed when it was suggested that other crimes, such as arson, should be included in the statute.

A similar measure failed in 2011 on a 10-11 vote in the Senate. Former Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, joined with Republicans in opposing the measure in an otherwise party-line vote.

Spearman then ran against Lee in the Democratic primary in 2012, defeating him and winning the seat in the November general election.

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