Hate Crime

Image of Jim Roth

The violent attack on former Corporation Commissioner Jim Roth outside of an Oklahoma City bar recently was a hate crime by any reasonable definition.

Roth, pictured right, who is also a former Oklahoma county commissioner, was inside the bar when a man started making anti-gay slurs. Roth was then followed outside and physically attacked while his assailants berated him verbally about his sexual orientation.

The attack is a wake-up call that goes beyond the fact that Roth is a former public figure and well-known in the community. This is hate and violence at one of its crudest and ugliest levels, experienced far too often by members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, whatever their stature. Roth’s assailants should be held responsible for their actions.

Unfortunately, Oklahoma doesn't specifically address sexual orientation or gender identity in its hate crime laws. It is one of 14 states that fail to provide any hate-crime protection for the LGBT community.

According to a media report, earlier this month Roth was at Granddad’s Bar, 317 NW 23rd Street, in Oklahoma City attending a birthday gathering. A man started making anti-gay comments, which Roth tried to ignore, according to the report. When Roth and a friend decided to leave, the man and two other people followed them outside and attacked them, punching Roth in the head, the report states, and the attackers then fled the scene. Police are investigating the attack.

The owner of the bar, Greg Seal, recently placed an advertisement in the Oklahoma Gazette titled “HATE IS NOT ON TAP AT GRANDDAD’S,” which called for tolerance and referred to a “situation recently that is sad and embarrassing.” Both he and Roth, who are friends, according to the media report, didn’t want the incident to become a major news story.

Roth posted this on his Facebook page about the incident:

Dear Friends - Thank You so much for your kind words and encouragement about the recent unfortunate event in OKC.

Please know the City of OKC police have been great and together with Greg & Jennifer Seal, the perpetrators will be held accountable.

I believe that we all have the right (and responsibility) to live, love and pray as our souls require and so I am not deterred by the ignorance of one or more people towards me or anyone else who honestly walks their life journey.

Thanks for your friendships; stay strong!
My best, Jim

The way Roth has handled the incident publicly is inspirational, and the outpouring of support for him has been immense.

As I mentioned, though, Oklahoma is a state that doesn’t address sexual orientation as part of its hate-crime laws, and this is a major problem. In addition, the state legislature and state politicians have a long history of opposing LGBT rights. The Oklahoma House just this session passed a resolution reaffirming its stance against same-sex marriage, and state Rep. Sally Kern, an Oklahoma City Republican, is well-known nationally for her bizarre, anti-gay tirades that are tolerated by her constituents and many of her fellow legislators. A state senator even once pushed to allow Oklahoma to opt out on federal hate-crime legislation that extended protection because of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The lack of effective, inclusive hate-crime laws here and the overall legislative history of bigotry against LGBT community in the state obviously don’t help prevent attacks like the one experienced by Roth recently and may even create a sense among some misguided people that it’s acceptable to openly vent bigotry and even attack people of marginalized groups.

This Oklahoma climate of intolerance, created by so many of our leaders through the years, needs to change, but that’s admittedly difficult to do under the state’s current, conservative government. What can be done is to hold Roth’s attackers responsible for their actions and to keep working to change our hate laws here to reflect reality.