LGBTQ Caucus of Pennsylvania House urges the passing of hate crime bill following the murder of a transgender teenager

After a 14-year-old transgender girl was killed in western Pennsylvania, some state House lawmakers are calling on the Senate to pass an anti-hate crimes bill that would provide more extensive protections for gender and sexual-orientation classes.

On Wednesday, the House LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus released a written statement expressing their grief over the loss of Pauly Likens and their firm stance against the targeting of LGBTQ+ individuals in Pennsylvania. The caucus members declared that it is unacceptable that the current hate crime laws in the state do not cover crimes motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

29-year-old DaShawn Watkins, a resident of Sharon, is currently being held at Mercer County Prison without bail as he faces a first-degree murder charge and other charges. A preliminary hearing has been set for July 25.

In just under a year, the United States has experienced the tragic loss of 24 transgender individuals, with the death of Pauly being the latest addition to this devastating statistic.

The House LGTBQ+ Caucus has made an urgent appeal to their counterparts in the state Senate to pass H.B. 1027 and send it to the governor’s office, as there has been a surge in violent hate crimes across the country. They emphasized the need for Pennsylvania’s hate crime law to be updated to ensure that charges can reflect the particularly malicious nature of hate-fueled violence.

Reps. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny County, and Napoleon Nelson are sponsoring H.B. 1027. The bill aims to amend the state’s ethnic intimidation statute to offer additional protections for victims who have been targeted due to their race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, ancestry, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, age, and disability, including autism. The proposed legislation also seeks to provide victims with a civil cause of action against offenders.

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In October 2023, the legislation was passed by the state House in a vote that received bipartisan support. However, it is yet to be reviewed by the Judiciary Committee of the state Senate.

Frankel expressed her concern over the loss of Pauly Likens, stating that not only has a light gone out, but the LGBTQ+ communities across the state are now shaken and fearful. She highlighted that the federal government and many other states have acknowledged that these groups are often targets for hate crimes and have provided law enforcement with tools to address them. Frankel questioned the commitment of the commonwealth to protect vulnerable people if they refuse to take action against such crimes.

The bill has been promised to be signed by Governor Josh Shapiro.

By analyzing cell phone data, the police were able to establish a connection between Watkins and Pauly and locate him. According to the authorities, Watkins had made plans to meet someone on the dating app Grinder on the evening of June 22. Through the tracking of Pauly’s phone, the police were able to determine her location near the reservoir in the early morning hours of June 23.

According to PennLive, Mercer County District Attorney Peter Acker has expressed his intention to prosecute the case as a hate crime, despite the fact that the current law does not have specific provisions for such cases.

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