Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 49 / 7 December 2017
 

FBI encourages LGBTs to report hate crimes

NEWS


m.bajko@ebar.com

FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephanie Douglas talked about the federal hate crime law at last week's Pride event for several federal agencies, as FBI employee Alicia Sensibaugh, who served as master of ceremonies, looked on. (Photo: Janet V. Lockett)
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The FBI office in San Francisco is encouraging LGBT people to report hate crimes based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity now that the federal agency has jurisdiction to investigate such criminal activity.

Federal Bureau of Investigation personnel relayed that message during a Pride celebration a number of local federal law enforcement agencies co-hosted Friday, June 24 ahead of the city's annual Pride Parade and festival.

In October 2009 President Barack Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. One of the bill's provisions authorized the FBI to investigate hate crimes directed toward the LGBT community.

Stephanie Douglas, the FBI special agent in charge of the San Francisco division, told the Bay Area Reporter that since the law took effect her office has not received many calls about hate crimes involving LGBT victims.

"Since the hate crimes law took effect there have not been a lot of reports about hate crimes. San Francisco is a pretty tolerant community," said Douglas. "We do want to make sure the community feels comfortable coming forward. Where there are instances of crimes going on they should feel comfortable reporting such crimes."

Last year's inaugural Pride event at the Philip Burton Federal Building hosted by the San Francisco Multi-Agency LGBT Pride Committee celebrated the passage of the hate crimes law. This year's celebration, at which the B.A.R. was the only media outlet invited to cover, reiterated the fact that the FBI wants to hear from the LGBT community.

FBI Special Agent Melissa Patrick, who oversees the local division's hate crimes unit, spoke about the pro-gay law and how it has unshackled the agency's hands when it comes to investigating anti-gay attacks. Holding up a leopard-print high heel shoe, Patrick described a scenario where a transgender woman walking to meet a friend is catcalled by two men who attack her when they realize the object of their advances is biologically male.

"If the story I told you happened in 2008, I could not have helped her," noted Patrick, adding that due to Obama's signing the bill, "today it is possible for me to investigate when a high school student is beaten because he is gay or when a transgender person" is attacked.

But Patrick stressed that, "I cannot investigate a crime I don't know happens. It is imperative we look out for one another and bring these crimes to the attention of law enforcement. I now have the tools to investigate these crimes."

Victims or people who have information about such crimes can call the local FBI office 24 hours a day, seven days a week, noted Douglas, at (415) 553-7400 and ask to speak to the duty agent.

Reports about hate crimes can also be submitted online at https://tips.fbi.gov/.

About 75 people attended the ceremony, which was held in the federal courthouse's ceremonial courtroom where judges are sworn in. Its theme this year was "Be Yourself, Change the World" and other guest speakers included retired Naval Captain Robert D. Dockendorff, a gay man who spoke about the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and National Center for Lesbian Rights senior staff attorney Christopher Stoll, who discussed the ongoing lawsuit over California's same-sex marriage ban.

Gay pastry chef Yigit Pura, one of this year's celebrity grand marshals at Pride, also addressed the audience. Agencies taking part in addition to the FBI included the Department of Justice; U.S. Pretrial Services; Drug Enforcement Administration; and the General Services Administration.

"I have always felt it was very important for all of us to be out and visible in the workplace. This is one way of doing that," said David Weir, a gay man who is the courtroom services supervisor for the U.S. Federal District Court.

Weir said the court for northern California is "very supportive" of its LGBT employees. When he and his husband married in 2008, Chief Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James officiated the ceremony.

"Even with the judges who are politically conservative I have never felt any negative reaction at all," said Weir, who obtained the second marriage license issued to a same-sex couple in Contra Costa County behind openly gay clerk Stephen Weir, who is of no relation.

Geoffrey W. Lagonoy, who serves as the FBI San Francisco LGBT coordinator and chairs the Multi-Agency LGBT Pride Committee, said the event for LGBT employees is similar to ones held by other minority employee groups throughout the year.

"I think it is important to honor our federal employees who are LGBT. Like their peers outside the federal government, they work in silence," said Lagonoy, a technical information specialist for the FBI. "This is a way to show there are people like you who are working in the federal government, they are proud of their accomplishments, and it is okay to be out in the workplace."

 






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