Denton, Perhaps Not So "Gay-Friendly"?

A story in this week's edition of Dallas Voice points out a surprising fact: Of 1,300 anti-gay hate-crime charges filed in Texas since 2001, when the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act was enacted, only eight have been successfully prosecuted. Paul Scott, exec director of Equality Texas, told the paper his organization has discovered that law enforcement agencies in the state are actually unaware of the law's existence.

The issue is highlighted by the case of Christopher McKee, a gay Denton man who says he was badly beaten on December 5, 2005, near the University of North Texas campus for kissing another man goodbye. The case against his alleged attacker, George Clifton Young, was scheduled to go to trial this week in Denton County. He's denied the charges.

But McKee is accusing the Denton County District Attorney's office of dragging its feet instead of pursuing the case. He claims that the prosecutor told him that it would be difficult to obtain a conviction against Young because the county is not "gay-friendly." McKee has refused to agree to a plea bargain that would reduce the crime to a Class C misdemeanor.

Last Monday, several dozen people, including Pete Webb, Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance President, protested on the steps of the Denton County Courthouse in support of McKee. "It was a horrific incident that occurred," Webb told the Voice. "To think that in this day and age someone could be attacked simply because they are gay or lesbian and that it occurred right there in Denton so close to the university."

The prosecutor didn't return the paper's call, but to tell a crime victim that going to trial is pointless because the area is not "gay-friendly" is pretty shocking. Would a prosecutor say that an area is not "black-friendly"? Or what about "woman-friendly"?

Maybe the problem is in the way the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act is written. Equity Texas' Paul Scott says that State Sen. Rodney Ellis is advocating revising it to strengthen enforcement. They are asking members to support McKee's cause. Whether Young is guilty is up to a jury. But what if the prosecutors are right and the local jury pool is simply not "gay-friendly"? Can gays and lesbians expect any kind of justice in Denton County? --Glenna Whitley

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky