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Locals seek change in hate crimes against gay community

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Critics of North Carolina hate crime laws made their voices heard outside of the New Hanover County Court House Thursday. Hate crime laws in North Carolina upgrade misdemeanors to felonies, but some groups feel the law neglects some often targeted members of the community.

In mid-July, two men were attacked while leaving a bar in downtown Wilmington. They say the attack took place because of their sexual orientation.

“In downtown there is a lot of general violence, but this violence by three assailants was directed towards these two men because of the perception that they were gay,” said Tab Ballis, who is promoting hate crime awareness.

North Carolina laws protect against discrimination for race, religion, or country of origin by classifying them as hate crimes, which carry stiffer penalties. Assistant district attorney James Blanton said, “Sexual orientation is not one of the protected classes. If someone commits a misdemeanor assault based on the fact that the victim has a different sexual orientation that they’re not satisfied with, it would not bump it up to a felony.”

Thursday community supporters raised their signs calling for that to change. The North Carolina General Assembly is considering Bill 207 which would broaden the definition of hate crimes.

“It helps to have our gay community supported, adding not only sexual orientation, but gender and disability as well,” said Ryan Burris.

Supporters believe the Safer Communities Act would provide more security for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Burris said, “I definitely think it would help to deter people from targeting a specific demographic as the gay community.”

“Hate crimes are based on fear, ignorance, and misunderstanding. And I think we all believe that folks that pay taxes deserve to be safe in their own community,” added Ballis.

Thirty-three states recognize violent crimes associated with a victim’s sexual orientation as hate crimes. If legislatures approve Bill 207, North Carolina would be added to that list.

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Critics of North Carolina hate crime laws made their voices heard outside of the New Hanover County Court House Thursday. Hate crime laws in North Carolina upgrade misdemeanors to felonies, but …

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