Appalachian Trail Histories


The Gay Community and Hate Crime Legislation

Shenandoah National Park View From Skyline Drive

Shenandoah National Park As Seen From Skyline Drive

The murders of Julianne Williams and Laura Winans had a profound effect on the gay community at large, not just gay hikers. Because both hikers were female, and were in a relationship together, investigators considered the idea that this crime may have been commited based on the victims' gender or sexual orientation. 

According to the Congressional Record's "Unanimous Consent Request  -- S.625", at least three hate crimes occur in the United States every day. In the year 2000, the FBI records showed that nearly 8,000 hate crimes occured that year, averaging at approximately 20 hate crimes per day. While the numbers fluctuate, it is hard to deny that these events are becoming more and more common. The "Unanimous Consent Request -- S.625" has a powerful quote when it comes to hate crimes, stating that:

"Hate crimes send a poisonous message that some Americans are second class citizens who deserve to be victimized solely because of their race, their ethnic background, their religion, their sexual orientation, their gender or their disability. These senseless crimes have a destructive and devastating impact not only on individual victims, but entire communities. If America is to live up to its founding ideals of liberty and justice for all, combating hate crimes must be a national priority." 

Shenandoah National Park: Skyline Drive View

Shenandoah National Park's Wilderness As Seen From Skyline Drive

At the time of the 1996 murders, legislation regarding hate crimes mostly dealt with crimes against people of certain races, religions, and ethnicities. However, the legislation did not protect those who were targeted because they were homosexual, lesbian, male, or female. The gay community expressed major concern as to whether or not the murders were hate crimes against gays in the news articles "Trail Group Reacts to Murder" and "Gay Community Wants Bias Angle Known". They believed that if this case was ruled as a hate crime, then that would mean someone was out there specifically targeting gays and putting them at risk. This murder created not only paranoia for gays, but also helped to inspire legislation that would protect others like themselves in the future. This bill, the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act, would make it so that "No Americans should feel that they are second-class citizens because Congress refuses to protect them against hate crimes." This legislation cites the 1996 murders as an example of the tragedies that happen when people are judged based on sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or ethnicity.

Julianne Williams and Laura Winans' case would be the first to be tried as a hate crime. As Attorney General Ashcroft states in "Attorney General Transcript of April 10, 2002 Indictment of Darrell David Rice for the 1996 Double Murders in Shenandoah National Park":

"By invoking the hate crimes enhancement parts of sentencing enhancement today, today's murder indictment makes clear our commitment to seek every prosecutorial advantage and to use every available statute to secure justice for victims like Julianne Marie Williams and Lollie Winans."

The transcript also discusses how the amendment of the hate crime legislation to protect those discriminated against based on gender or sexual orientation would then allow prosecutors to seek "request the death penalty in cases like this." Had their murders taken place outside of Shenandoah National Park,however, the hate crime sentencing would be all but impossible. Hate crime legislation that will protect those all over the United States, not just on government property, is a necessity that must be achieved so that every U.S. citizen can feel protected under the law. This case did not just open the public's eyes to discrimination, violence, and loss; it helped inspire legislation that would effectively prevent such crimes from happening again, and punish those who commit these crimes to the fullest extent.