Carrying signs and wielding umbrellas in the rain, hundreds of Philadelphia residents and officials gathered in Love Park Thursday calling for state lawmakers to extend hate crime protections to the LGBT communities.
State Rep. Brian Sims organized the gathering in response to a recent attack on two gay men in his district.
“Our state has a moral responsibility to address hate crimes, and we remain complicit if we fail to pass hate crimes legislation that protects those of us that are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender — or even perceived to be,” Sims said.
Sims applauded the work of Philly law enforcement in handling the case.
Caryn Kunkle, a friend of the victims, also spoke at Love Park.
“On Sept. 11 of this year, a group of young people came to my city to have a good time,” Kunkle said. “At 10:30 at night in Rittenhouse, they opened a conversation with my friends by asking the question, ‘Is that your f—ing boyfriend?’ And that conversation quickly devolved into a nationally broadcast incident.”
Philip Williams, 24, Katherine Knott, 24, and Kevin Harrigan, 26, all of Bucks County, have been charged in the attack.
State Sen. Larry Farnese, who vowed to work with Sims in Harrisburg to pass the legislation, said he was particularly startled by the ages of the alleged attackers.
“The millennials, as we talk about them, they’re the ones that are supposed to lead us, that are supposed to look past all of the problems and the bigotry and the bias that we, my generation and ones before, have put up with,” Farnese said. “And the fact that they are involved with this — that … scares the hell out of me.”
City Council President Darrell Clarke delivered a blunt message to potential visitors
“This is some serious stuff. We’re not having that here. Right? You can’t figure out a way to conduct yourself in the city of Philadelphia, guess what, don’t come here!” he said. “We’re not having that here!” Philadelphia City Council is also working on protections for the LGBT community.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams has called the attack ‘vicious’ and said he fully supports the hate crimes legislation.
“The victims don’t own the case,” Williams said. “A crime against anyone, we believe, is a crime against all of us.”
Much work remains to be done by lawmakers and Philadelphians, said Chris Bartlett, executive director of the William Way LGBT Center.
“And perhaps in our lifetime or the lifetime of our children, a hate crimes law will be unnecessary,” Batrlett said
City Councilman Jim Kenney agreed that laws alone can not achieve “true equality.”
“Transphobia and homophobia have always been deeply embedded in American culture, as we were brutally reminded two weeks ago,” he said. “Our children are still growing up in a country where LGBT people are seen as an ‘other.'”
Calling on Harrisburg to act, Kenney said, “We are no longer handing out trophies for merely ‘tolerating’ gay people. ‘Tolerance’ is just a polite way of saying, ‘Fine, we’ll let you have your marriage equality but take it somewhere else where I don’t have to see it.'”
Sims will co-chair a public hearing on LGBT hate crimes Oct. 2 at the Kimmel Center.