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Gov't leaders talk hate crimes, discrimination
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times

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Representatives from city, county, state and federal government came together to talk about anti-LGBT hate crimes and discrimination at a special two-part panel hosted by Center on Halsted Nov. 27.

The panel, which largely focused on how Chicagoans can file complaints or recieve support from government entities, included representatives from the Chicago Police Department (CPD), the Chicago Commission on Human Relations (CCHR), the U.S. Department of Justice, the Cook County Department of Human Rights, the Cook County State's Attorney's office and the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR). Also on hand were representatives from the Anti-Violence Project housed at Center on Halsted and the Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Anne Huffman, Anti-Violence Project manager at Center on Halsted and CPD Officer Mike Ghuneim both noted that not all hate incidents are hate crimes. A person must both be a victim of a crime and a member on one of the legally-protected classes, Ghuneim said. Further, that crime must be motivated by bias against a protected class.

Ghuneim encouraged those reporting hate crimes to be specific about why they believe they were victims of a hate crime.

"It is very important that the reporting officer get the exact language used," he said.

Norman White, hate crimes specialist for CCHR, said the city has seen a shift in hate crimes reporting over the years. In past years, he said, most anti-LGBT related hate crimes were reported along Halsted in Boystown. Today, they are spread throughout the city.

"A lot of the victims are becoming younger and younger, especially on the South Side," White said.

Audience members questioned panelists on their efforts to encourage hate crime reporting and to inform the public about resources they offer.

Among the lesser known entities was the Community Relations Service (CRS), a part of the U.S. Department of Justice. Justin Lock and Kenith Bergeron of CRS said their Chicago office does not have a litigation function. Rather, CRS mediates community conflicts.

Also present on the panel was Alicia Oeser, the new LGBTQ hate crime specialist for the Cook County State's Attorney's office. Huffman previously held that position until recommended cuts threatened her job last year. However, those cuts did include the position of community outreach specialist and LGBT liaison, a job previously held by veteran activist Vernita Gray.

Oeser said that cuts to the State's Attorney's community education positions has hindered the office's ability to do outreach.

"The outreach isn't really happening in terms of prevention on the State's Attorney's end," Oeser said.

In terms of discrimination, officials noted that they have been receiving a number of complaints from transgender people about access to restrooms.

"I think we're just beginning to see the tip of that iceberg," said MaryNic Foster, executive director of the Cook County Department of Human Rights.

Among those complaints this year was one from Meggan Sommerville, a Hobby Lobby employee who was denied access to the women's room at work, despite having an ID that says "female."

IDHR dismissed Sommerville's complaint earlier this year, a move seen by most activists as a mistake on the part of an IDHR investigator. One audience member questioned Marian Honel of IDHR's Fair Housing Division on the kinds of training that IDHR employees receive on gender identity. Honel said she had not heard of the case in question but said that employees undergo gender identity and sexual orientation training.

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