Mental and physical disability
Headline-grabbing incidents against specific groups have occurred across the state since 2008, including incidents against those who have mental and physical disabilities. They also are unprotected under the state’s law.
Jennifer Daugherty, 30 at the time of her 2010 murder, was described as having the mental capacity of a 12- or 14 year-old, according to news reports.
In Greensburg, six people, whom Daugherty considered friends, bound her with Christmas lights and beat her. They shaved her head and forced her to drink urine.
The torture lasted more than two days, ending in her death.
In an incident in 2011, four mentally-disabled people were found in a Philadelphia basement.
Victims had been tied, denied food and forced to perform sex acts. Two died. The alleged captors targeted people with disabilities to steal their Social Security checks, according to press accounts. (The case has not yet gone to trial, and could be prosecuted as a federal hate crime.)
The sentencing could not get much worse in many of these high-profile crimes — life in prison, the death penalty.
But because Pennsylvania’s hate-crime law excludes those classes, state prosecutors are left without a tool to enhance the sentencing and hold the perpetrator accountable, said Christopher Mallios, a former assistant district attorney in Philadelphia.
Mallios now works with AEquitas, a nonprofit that provides resources to prosecute violence against women.
Lower level offenses, like spray painting someone’s home with an anti-gay slur, probably would not be prosecuted federally, but they can be devastating, he said.
“Without an inclusive state hate-crime statute, you have victims and communities that are left without protections,” he said.
Like being left-handed
For Jane, living two lives began to take its toll by the late 1990s. Suicide attempts were frequent, she said.
“I finally decided I was either going to die or transition,” she said.
In 2010, in a rural community in Western Pennsylvania, Jane, who had been taking hormone treatments, planned her surgery and coming out to coworkers and family members.
Things became ugly quickly. She lost her job and she and her wife were told they should leave town, she said.
Eventually, they settled in a new community.
There is little incentive for people like Jane to report crimes or threats because they have few legal protections, said Liz de Jesus, the president of the Pittsburgh chapter of Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
De Jesus, who lives in Beaver County, said her son told his family he was gay when he was 19 or 20. By that time, he was “like a pressure cooker,” she said.
When asked why he had not told them sooner, de Jesus said he told her he was worried that his family might be targeted for a hate crime.
“People don’t choose to be left-handed or right-handed. When you’re born, you are what you are,” she said. “We’re families just like other families out there…. Why should they not be given the same protections?”
Emily DeMarco can be reached at 412-315-0262 or firstname.lastname@example.org.