Utah proposal would protect LGBTQ people from hate crimes

Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City

SALT LAKE CITY — A new proposal could make it a hate crime in Utah to harm someone because they are gay or transgender.

A bill unveiled by a Republican lawmaker Thursday would dole out stiffer penalties for crimes against people or their property that are motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation, gender identity, race, disability, gender or other protected traits.

Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams has said Utah’s current hate crimes law has no protections for gay or transgender residents and little protections for other groups.

Utah is one of 15 states with hate crime laws that lack protections for sexual orientation and identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

St. George Republican Sen. Steve Urquhart sponsored the measure. He also sponsored Utah’s landmark LGBT anti-discrimination bill last year that passed after being endorsed by the Salt Lake City-based Mormon church.

Urquhart’s proposal has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

Williams has cited a case from late 2014, where two gay men were beaten outside a Salt Lake City apartment complex. The victims said two men yelled gay slurs and made explicit sexual comments before attacking them.

They suffered cuts and bruises, but Williams said prosecutors were unable to prove the attack was a hate crime under the current law.

Under Urquhart’s bill, prosecutors would have to prove an offender committed the crime because they believed the victim was gay or transgender. It wouldn’t matter if the victim actually was gay or transgender.

The hate crime charge also would bring higher penalties.

For example, someone convicted of aggravated assault in Utah can get one to 15 years in prison if the victim suffers serious injuries. Under the hate crimes proposal, anyone committing an assault because of a victim’s sexual identity or another protected trait would be eligible for five years to life in prison.

The proposal would also require the state to track the number of hate crimes committed in the state based on various factors such as a victim’s sexual orientation or race.

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