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Growing calls for stronger Pa. hate-crime laws

Pennsylvania Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf joined a growing chorus Friday calling for expanded state hate-crime laws after a Center City assault that left a gay couple seriously injured.

Pennsylvania Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf joined a growing chorus Friday calling for expanded state hate-crime laws after a Center City assault that left a gay couple seriously injured.

In a statement, Wolf described the Sept. 11 incident near Rittenhouse Square as "vicious" and "incomprehensible."

"No one, no matter their race, gender, or sexual orientation, should ever have to live in fear of walking down the street," Wolf said of the assault, in which two men said they were attacked by a group of 10 to 12 people hurling antigay slurs.

If elected, Wolf said, he would "level the playing field" by promoting proposals to amend hate-crime laws to include crimes motivated by sexual orientation and gender identity.

He pointed to House Bill 300, which would make sexual orientation a "protected class," and H.B. 177, which would amend the Ethnic Intimidation Act to include sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity."

"All people - regardless of sexual orientation - should be treated equally under the law," he said.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Corbett said he supported H.B. 300 and generally has been supportive of legislation protecting against discrimination in any form.

Also, U.S. Rep. Robert Brady, leader of the city's Democratic Party, issued a statement Friday night in which he called for Pennsylvania to amend its hate-crime laws to include members of the LGBT community.

"The recent gay bashing in downtown Philadelphia, in what I consider to be a hate crime, has no place in our fine city of brotherly love, and we need to do all we can both on the federal and state level to protect this community from vicious hate violence," Brady said in his statement.

"Presently, Pennsylvania is one of 15 states that does not include sexual orientation to the standards protected under its hate-crime law."

The congressman also said that on Friday, he introduced legislation that would remove some restrictions of the federal hate-crimes law dealing with the LGBT community.

And State Sen. Larry Farnese announced that he would lead a rally at the Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg on Tuesday to advocate for a companion piece of legislation, Senate Bill 42. It would expand the hate-crime protection law to include lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens.

Farnese (D., Phila.) said he sent a letter to State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R., Montgomery), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, calling for an immediate vote on the bill.

While the calls for political action heightened, detectives were still parsing exactly what happened in the incident that sent the men to the hospital, leaving both with facial fractures and one with a wired jaw.

Differing accounts have emerged as investigators interview suspects and witnesses, and review video footage.

The couple told police that one of them bumped into one of the members of the larger group, some of whom were former students at Archbishop Wood High School, who had just dined at a Rittenhouse Square restaurant.

The bump, the couple told police, led someone in the group to profanely ask the men if they were dating, and that led to the attack, in which the victims said several men held and punched them.

During the assault, one of the victims had his bag stolen and lost his wallet, cellphone, and credit cards, police said.

Law enforcement sources say people of interests in the attack told investigators that the incident began after the men exchanged words with the group - and that only a few members of the group took part.

According to a source with knowledge of the case, several members of the group told police that one of the victims struck first, shoving or becoming physical with a woman in the group.

Police said they were still conducting interviews Friday.

Fortunato Perri Jr., a defense lawyer who represents one of the alleged attackers, whom he declined to name, said: "Evidence will show that there is clearly another side of this incident that has yet to be told."

Caryn Kunkle, a friend of the victims, dismissed that portrayal.

"They [the victims] do not remember it that way - and other witnesses do not remember it that way," she said. "They remember it as being initiated by very aggressive and very clearly antigay language."

She said the couple, while seeking to maintain their privacy, would like to find a way to participate in an Anti-Hate Crime Rally planned for Thursday at LOVE Park. The gathering, she said, is being organized by State Rep. Brian K. Sims (D., Phila.).

While the victims are not planning to attend, Kunkle said, they might record a video message that does not reveal their faces.

Sims also asked the victims to testify at an October hearing at City Hall on an expansion of the state's hate-crime law, she said. She said the men would do that if only the news media agrees not to reveal their names or take photos.