Obama signs hate-crimes bill

President Barack Obama signed a GLBT-inclusive hate-crimes law Oct. 28. It was attached to the 2010 defense-spending bill.

“To all the activists, all the organizers, all the people who helped make this day happen, thank you for your years of advocacy and activism, pushing and protesting that made this victory possible,” Obama said. “You know, as a nation we’ve come far on the journey towards a more perfect union. And today, we’ve taken another step forward.”

“No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hands of the person they love,” the president continued. “No one in America should be forced to look over their shoulder because of who they are or because they live with a disability. At root, this isn’t just about our laws; this is about who we are as a people. This is about whether we value one another — whether we embrace our differences, rather than allowing them to become a source of animus.”

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act:

* Gives the Justice Department the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violence where the perpetrator selected the victim because of the person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

* Provides the Justice Department with the ability to assist state and local jurisdictions or, if necessary, take the lead in investigations and prosecutions of bias-based violent crime that results in death or serious injury.

* Makes grants available to state and local jurisdictions to combat violent crimes committed by juveniles, train law enforcement officers and assist in investigations and prosecutions of hate crimes.

“I just hope the community can appreciate the meaning and magnitude for this legislation — first federal LGBT-rights law as I understand it — and the start of more good things to come,” said Steve Hildebrand, who was Obama’s deputy national campaign director and advises the president on gay issues.

Other reactions:

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey: “Laws embody the values of our nation, and through the enactment of this hate-crimes law, our country has — once and for all — sent a clear and unequivocal message that it rejects and condemns all forms of hate violence, including crimes motivated by hatred of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”

Judy Shepard: “When Dennis and I started calling 10 years ago for federal action to prevent and properly prosecute hate crimes against gay, lesbian and transgendered Americans, we never imagined it would take this long. The legislation went through so many versions and so many votes that we had to constantly keep our hopes in check to keep from getting discouraged. But with President Obama’s support and the continually growing bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate lining up behind the bill this year, it became clear that 2009 was the year it would finally happen. We are incredibly grateful to Congress and the president for taking this step forward on behalf of hate-crime victims and their families, especially given the continuing attacks on people simply for living their lives openly and honestly. But each of us can and must do much more to ensure true equality for all Americans.”

Tanner Efinger of Equality Across America, which staged the recent GLBT march on Washington, D.C.: “It’s good that the U.S. government has finally taken action to deter hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. But by continuing to permit or even require discrimination against LGBT people in our relationships, in public service and in the workplace, the government fuels the very bigotry that results in violent attacks.”

National Equality March Co-Director Robin McGehee: “We applaud and congratulate Matthew Shepard’s mom, Judy, who has inspired so many over the last 11 years and did so again when she spoke at the National Equality March this October. She has truly shown what being a fierce advocate for equality and justice is truly about, even after facing such a horrible tragedy based in hate.”

Gay writer Andrew Sullivan: “Under the hate-crimes rubric, gays are asked to see themselves as sad, passive victims of hate, reaching out to government to protect them more than those just targeted for other reasons (having money, for example). … Does anyone seriously believe that a hate-crimes federal law will actually prevent gay bashing? How exactly?”

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, there are nearly 8,000 hate-crime-related incidents annually and more than 1,200 of them involve violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Although the overall occurrence of hate crimes is declining in America, hate crimes against GLBT people have been increasing.

Matthew Shepard was murdered in Laramie, Wyo., in 1998 in what became the highest-profile anti-gay hate crime in U.S. history. James Byrd Jr. was a black man who was murdered in Jasper, Tex., in 1998. He was beaten, stripped naked, chained by the ankles to a pickup truck and dragged for three miles.

By Rex Wockner


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