North Carolina Legislative Building. Photo by Jmturner, via Wikimedia.

RALEIGH, N.C. — A bill introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) would expand state hate crime statutes to include crimes against individuals based on sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability. House Bill 152 would also shift certain crimes from misdemeanors to felonies. The need for this legislation, LGBTQ advocates say, is undeniable.

“I think we had kind of a lackluster penalty in the past and so we really want to put these reforms in place so that we can assure our citizens of our commitment as elected officials to their quality of life,” Rep. Rodney Moore (D-Mecklenburg), one sponsor of HB 152, told reporters. “We want to make sure that all of our citizens are protected.”

Protection from hate crimes is a dire necessity to many LGBTQ residents of the state. The Charlotte Observer reported on a number of crimes based on perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, that were not reported as hate crimes.

Even though many crimes are not reported as hate crimes, the number of hate crimes and hate groups is staggering. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, 1,094 hate crimes and hate incidents were reported nationwide within the first month of Donald Trump’s presidency. Of these attacks, 109 were anti-LGBTQ. That is more than three incidents per day against LGBTQ people.

The most frequently targeted members of the LGBTQ community are transgender women of color. Last year set a somber record, with 27 transgender women of color murdered, and more unreported or misreported in terms of gender and name.

Just over two months into 2017, seven transgender women of color have been killed.

House Bill 152 won’t prevent these incidents from happening, but it would double down the penalties for perpetrators of hate acts. The bill is a gesture that LGBTQ advocates say is especially significant for North Carolina.

“Our state is certainly not one that’s considered to be friendly to LGBT people which makes it all the more important that these protections are passed,” Matt Hirschy, director of advancement for Equality North Carolina, told WCNC.

The state’s reputation in progressive circles has suffered since the passage of HB2, the notorious “bathroom bill.” More than reputation, The Observer reports that anti-LGBTQ incidents have been on the rise since the bill became law. On top of its bathroom dictates, HB2 abolished local non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ residents.

An expert on anti-gay violence, psychology professor Gregory Herek of University of California-Davis told The Observer that the law makes a clear statement:

“It’s conveying to people in the state who are LGBT that they are not full citizens,” Herek said.

Supporters of HB2 who claim it is not discriminatory should step up and support HB 152,  according to Rep. Graig Meyer (D-Durham, Orange), another sponsor of the hate crime bill.

“We are hearing politicians at every level deny that their actions are discriminatory in intent or effect,” Meyer said. “Actions speak louder than words.”