By “everyone,” Waters means the LGBT community, where news of Waters, and his situation, spread like wildfire. At this point, Waters is receiving voicemails from people he doesn’t even know. They tell him they’re enraged about the situation, and then leave him another phone number and advise him to call another person he doesn’t know.
That’s just the way the Philly LGBT community works. But the way Pennsylvania law works, even if the prosecution convicts Roman of criminal mischief and harassment and can prove bias as motivation, it wouldn’t matter legally.
Waters and Benoit say last week, a rep from the Human Relations Commission took the sign down. The HRC declined to comment on the situation.
Roman declined to comment through his attorney, Mary T. Maran. “My client denies putting up the sign,” says Maran.
In 2002, an amendment was passed that added actual or perceived ancestry, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity to the list of bias categories covered by the Ethnic Intimidation Act, which already included race, color, religion and national origin.
It didn’t last long.
In 2004, Temple grad Michael Marcavage, born-again Christian and founder of extreme Philadelphia-based evangelical group Repent America, was arrested while protesting the city’s OutFest celebration. Marcavage was charged under the Ethnic Intimidation Act.
A judge eventually dismissed the charges against Marcavage, but he went on to challenge the law all the way up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Though the premise has precedent in other states, the way the amendment was passed resulted in it being declared unconstitutional. “It had nothing to do with the content of the statute,” says Leonore Carpenter, assistant professor of law at Temple and former legal director at Equality Advocates PA. “It was merely that it was passed in a way that was procedurally inappropriate. It was a very technical reason.” In short, legislators violated protocol by tucking it into an agricultural bill.
“[The amendment] has not been passed again,” adds Carpenter.
With both chambers dominated by Republicans rapidly proving themselves to be among the most socially conservative in the country, properly amending the Ethnic Intimidation Act to include gender and sexual orientation isn’t a top priority.
Ted Martin, the executive director of LGBT political advocacy organization Equality PA, says, “There’s discussion about hate-crime legislation in Harrisburg, but there’s nothing moving.”
The inertia probably has something to do with the fact that Pennsylvania has never had an openly gay or lesbian legislator in either the House or the Senate. (If Brian Sims, a lawyer challenging Rep. Babette Josephs (D-Philadelphia) for the 182nd District, wins a seat this year, he will be the first.)
“The point has to be made that we simply treat LGBT people really bad [in Pennsylvania],” says Martin.
Recently, Martin established the first LGBT caucus in the state legislature. “The basic gist of the caucus is to start having conversations,” says Martin. “To help members of the Legislature to simply understand the lives of LBGT folks, quite honestly.”
Perhaps they can start by having Blaze Waters as a guest to tell them all about it.
Last May, when Tara Robertson began taking pictures of her friends in Philly’s LGBT community, the 24-year-old University of the Arts photography major didn’t expect that what was intended to be her senior-year fine-arts project would evolve into a potent campaign for gay equality in Pennsylvania.