City councilors unanimously approved Tulsa’s first hate crimes ordinance Wednesday.
The measure is similar to the state’s hate crimes statute but adds four protected classes: gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
Gender identity is a person’s internal understanding of their gender. It can range anywhere along the gender spectrum and does not necessarily match the person’s assigned gender at birth.
Gender expression is how a person publicly expresses or presents their gender.
Councilor Crista Patrick sponsored the measure.
“This moment is not only for the LGBT community, but it is for women; it is for religion; it is for race; it’s for national origin; it is for people with disabilities, so that we are standing together as a city saying that we do not tolerate hate against anyone,” Patrick said.
“We stand together, we stand strong. We get through this together.”
The hate crime ordinance applies only to misdemeanor crimes because the city prosecutes only misdemeanors. The misdemeanor crimes covered by the ordinance include but are not limited to assault and battery, vandalizing or destroying personal property, and the threat of such actions.
Persons convicted of violating the ordinance could be fined up to $1,000 or jailed for up to six months, or both.
Mayor G.T. Bynum said he supports the measure and will sign it into law.
“In Tulsa over the last decade, we have continually opposed discrimination against Tulsans on the basis of their sexual orientation,” Bynum said. “We have taken that stand in our city government employment policies, in our citywide housing protections, and now through our criminal justice system.”
Bynum and Councilor Jeannie Cue said Wednesday that they had heard from people who are concerned that the hate crimes ordinance would create a special class of people with more protections than others.
“I would never support an ordinance that does that,” Bynum said.
Senior Assistant City Attorney Mark Swiney told councilors before the vote that the proposed ordinance would not violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“I wanted to tell you that from a legal point of view it does not violate equal protection,” Swiney said. “If somebody punches me in the nose because I cut him off in traffic, that is a simple assault and battery. He can be prosecuted for assault and battery. But if he punches me in the nose because of my race or because of the church I go to or because of my sexual identity or my sexual expression, that assault and battery becomes far more serious.
“It is more insidious. It is more damnable. It’s un-American. … So that is what a hate crime does for us.”
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