Defining hate 

As the case against a Flathead County man accused of severely beating a gay county resident because of the victim’s sexuality comes to a close, the issues surrounding the beating are getting more attention.

Kirk Riddle pleaded guilty to felony criminal endangerment on May 16. The county attorney’s office is recommending he receive six months jail, a six-year deferred sentence and that he pay restitution. Sentencing is scheduled for June 21.

In the meantime, the Montana Human Rights Network (MHRN) is holding a panel discussion on Monday, June 4, in Whitefish in response to the beating.

“Whenever these kinds of events come up, we try to help communities respond in some way, and use them as an opportunity to educate the public about gay people in their communities and how their lives are impacted by these kinds of events,” says Christine Kaufman, executive director of MHRN, as well as a Democratic state senator from Helena.

Kaufman will serve as a panelist at the meeting, and plans to talk about hate crime laws in Montana. The state’s current hate crime law pertains to a victim’s race, creed, religion, color, national origin and involvement in civil rights or human rights activities. For 10 years, Kaufman says, there has been an effort in the Montana Legislature to add sexual orientation to the list. Legislation to do so, sponsored by Carol Juneau, D-Browning, failed in the most recent session.

Kaufman hopes the Flathead County attack will bring more attention to the need for legislation.

“We want to point out that the intent of a hate crime is essentially to terrorize a group of people,” Kaufman says. “It’s really a terrorist act in many ways.”
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