Advocates worry that South Carolina’s LGBTQ community may not be protected by a proposed hate crime law after a Republican-controlled subcommittee stripped provisions that would strengthen penalties for crimes committed because of gender and sexual orientation.
As originally proposed, H.3620 spells out protections for people victimized because of their “race, color, creed, religion, sex, gender, age, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, or physical or mental disability.” A House subcommittee unanimously approved an amendment Thursday that removed language related to sexual orientation, creed, gender, age and ancestry.
S.C. Rep. Chris Murphy told a House Judiciary subcommittee the amendment was designed to give the bill a better chance of passing the House before the April 8 deadline to be considered in the Senate.
“I think this amendment will go a long way to alleviating a lot of the concerns of our membership,” Murphy said, not referring to any specific concerns.
Thursday’s move came as lawmakers in the House and Senate consider prohibitions on transgender youth participation in school sports and penalties for doctors who provide some medical care for transgender minors.
South Carolina is one of three states in the U.S. without a law that adds penalties for crimes motivated by hate. Over the past year, a bipartisan group of lawmakers and statewide business groups like the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce have called for leaders to pass a hate crime law.
FBI statistics show around 17% of hate crimes committed in South Carolina in 2019 were motivated by sexual orientation, gender or gender identity, three of the protected classes removed with Murphy’s amendment Thursday.
The bill’s chief sponsor, Charleston Democratic state Rep. Wendell Gilliard, told The Post and Courier seeing the bill advanced without protections, was “bittersweet.”
“This is just disappointing,” said S.C. Rep. Beth Bernstein, D-Columbia, another bill sponsor, according to the Associated Press.
The Charleston-based Alliance for Full Acceptance said Thursday it would not put its support behind the proposed bill in its current form.
The bill heads to the full House Judiciary Committee next, where members could choose to reinstate its original language.
Subcommittee members explained that a recent U.S. Supreme Court opinion in an employment discrimination case could mean the bill’s new language will be interpreted to protect sexual orientation or gender identity.
But relying on a judge’s interpretation of a new South Carolina law is not enough, one leading local LGBTQ advocate said.
“It’s not an appropriate assumption to make that the Bostock [Supreme Court] case would apply to this law,” said Chase Glenn, the executive director of the Alliance for Full Acceptance. “I don’t want to be in a position where I’m expected to trust that S.C. courts (and law enforcement, for that matter) are going to interpret that way.”