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After a brutal attack on a gay couple on Sept. 11, Pennsylvania is one step closer to having a hate crime law that would protect gay and lesbian people.

On Monday, the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill, sponsored by state Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Philadelphia) , that would expand Pennsylvania’s hate crime law to cover sexual orientation, gender identity and mental and physical disabilities. The committee approved the legislation by a 19 to 4 vote.

Momentum for the change has been building after a gay couple was assaulted in Center City near RIttenhouse Square. The attackers allegedly used several anti-gay slurs as an exchange became increasingly violent — resulting in the hospitalization of the both men, with one of them having his jaw wired shut.

“The people that I’ve talked to about this are outraged that it happened,” said Bob Schoenberg, the director of Penn’s LGBT Center. “People are upset that, as it appears, these men were attacked for no other reason than acknowledging that they were a couple.”

Many gay rights advocates have pushed for the case to be tried as a hate crime, but the Pennsylvania hate crime law currently does not include crimes motivated by sexual orientation or gender identity.

Schoenberg said that attacks based on sexual or gender identity happen more frequently than is highlighted in the media. “It’s conceivable that this got as much attention as it did because both of the victims and the perpetrators were white and not two women or people of color.”

But he added that Penn is a generally accepting environment. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had a report of a student who was harassed or assaulted based on their sexual orientation,” Schoenberg said.

College junior Roderick Cook, who works in the LGBT Center and is active in the LGBT community at Penn, called the attack “scary.”

“A lot of us forget that this stuff can happen, particularly in an area where it did happen — the Gayborhood,” said Cook, who is also a Daily Pennsylvanian columnist. “It’s a place where I go a lot with my friends.”

While the Center City attack was highly publicized, both Schoenberg and Cook said other, more subtle forms of violence often go unnoticed.

“There is the violence that was committed here — that’s an interpersonal violence.” Cook said. “There is a lot of structural violence that goes on every day, especially against transgender people and LGBT people of color, who face certain biases.”

In response to the attack, around 300 people attended a rally at LOVE Park on Sept. 23 to demand the expansion of the state’s hate crime laws. The rally was organized by state Rep. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia), the state’s first openly gay lawmaker.

In 2002, Pennsylvanian passed a hate crime law that covered the LGBT community, but in 2008 the Pennsylvanian Supreme Court struck it down due to a technicality.

Three people — Philip Williams, Kathryn Knott and Kevin Harrigan — have been charged with two counts each of aggravated assault and other offenses related to the attack.

Correction: A previous version of this article quoted Bob Schoenberg as saying the Center City attack may have received widespread attention because the victims were not "gay women or people of color." In fact, he just said "women or people of color."

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