Beating Up Gay Teens Isn't a (Hate) Crime in Indiana

Jeanne Sager

gay prideSo much for "states rights" helping their citizens. Another American kid just learned the hard way that his state doesn't care about him. Rito Osorio is a gay teen who was lured into a high school bathroom by another student. There he was jumped while another teenager screamed gay slurs during the beat-down.

But as far as police, the school, and the State of Indiana are concerned, 16-year-old Osorio wasn't the victim of a hate crime. He just got beat up. And school administrators wonder why kids are still being bullied?

The Sellersburg (Indiana) Police Chief told TV station WHAS that what happened to Osorio was just an average school fight in which one teen beat up another teen. The kid has been arrested and charged in the beat-down, but he won't charge him in relation to the "hate."

But Osorio's story sounds anything but average. He says while he was being hit in the face, he heard another teen screaming gay slurs. I saw plenty of average school fights in my day, and never heard anyone using gay slurs (not even at the gay teens).

This also doesn't sound like "just a school fight" under the FBI's rubric. The FBI defines a hate or bias crime as:

A criminal offense committed against a person, property, or society that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin.

Note the words "sexual orientation." Federally, it's pretty clear that Osorio was the victim of a hate crime. At first I wondered why the police chief didn't follow the FBI rules, but it sounds like the guy's hands are tied. Because Indiana law doesn't provide for prosecution in cases of "sexual orientation" hate crimes. In Indiana, gay kids don't count, nor do they count in 18 other states around the nation. Even worse, Indiana is one of five states cited by the Human Rights Campaign for completely ignoring the "scourge of hate crimes."

And again, I ask how these people still wonder why kids are being bullied? They don't think it's a big enough deal to end it. The drumbeat to "end bullying" has been thumping for months now. It reached a crescendo late last year with the death of Tyler Clementi, the gay teen from Rutgers who killed himself after being bullied for his sexuality. And people promised to make changes.

But when cases like Osorio's come up, all those promises sound like lip service to real kids in real pain. There are only 31 states that protect gay kids from having their *sses kicked in their school bathrooms, only 31 states that will actually prosecute the offenders, only 31 states that have taken a stand on behalf of their citizenry.

If what happened to Rito Osorio in that bathroom can't be treated as a hate crime, then the school, the police department, and the State of Indiana just told gay kids everywhere that they don't count as much.

Was this a school fight or was this a hate crime?


Image via nickjohnson/Flickr

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