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Hate Crimes, Sodomy Law Before House Panel

Texas lawmakers Wednesday considered extending hate crime protections to transgender people and repealing the state’s anti-sodomy law, which remains on the books even though it's been found unconstitutional.

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A group of House members Wednesday considered legislation aimed at protecting gay and transgender people by repealing a now-defunct anti-sodomy law and extending hate crime protections, but did not vote on the bills.

State law now directs Texas judges in certain criminal cases to determine whether a crime was committed because of the perpetrator’s prejudice against the victim’s “race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, gender, or sexual preference.” House Bill 2059 by state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston would add “gender identity” to that list.

“The people that are potentially misunderstood are the ones most under attack,” Coleman told the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. He said transgender people are 28 times more likely to experience physical violence than others.

Under Texas law, if a crime is found to be motivated by prejudice, the punishment is automatically increased, and judges have the option to order perpetrators of hate crimes to attend programs to learn tolerance and acceptance.

Gregory Abbink, the city of Austin’s first openly transgender police officer, offered his support for the measure.

“Transgender is not an illness,” he said, but a label given to people who were “born in the wrong body.”

The committee also took up a pair of measures to remove an outdated section of state code criminalizing homosexual conduct — a law that has been ineffective since it was struck down by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2003.

Same-sex intercourse was a Class C misdemeanor in Texas, punishable by a fine of up to $500, until the court found the law unconstitutional. As of last year, Texas was one of a dozen states that still had anti-sodomy laws on the books despite the ruling.

Coleman told the committee the outdated anti-sodomy law created confusion, noting that a fiscal analysis of his bill by state budget officials mistakenly stated that homosexual intercourse was still a crime.

Identical bills by Coleman and state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, would repeal the law, along with a provision that requires certain sexual education materials to contain language that says homosexuality is “not an acceptable lifestyle.”

Alison Gill, senior legislative counsel for Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that the provision “further stigmatizes students, isolating them from their peers and increasing their vulnerability to school violence.”

“LGBT students in states with stigmatizing laws, such as Texas, are more likely to hear homophobic remarks from school staff,” Gill said.

"It puts people in a place where their acceptance is at question,” Coleman said.

The bills were left pending by the committee.

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