After a decade of debate, persistent advocacy and 14 separate congressional floor votes, President Barack Obama today signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in a White House ceremony attended by the Shepard and Byrd families.
“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,” said Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother and the president of the Matthew Shepard Foundation Board of Directors.
“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,” she continued. “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.”
The legislation allows federal authorities to pursue charges in violent crimes motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability, in cases where local authorities cannot or will not secure appropriate convictions. It also opens up federal aid to local law enforcement for training, prevention and investigation.
“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,” Shepard added. “But each of us can and must do much more to ensure true equality for all Americans.”
The Matthew Shepard Foundation’s work for an inclusive society continues after passage of this landmark legislation. In addition to advocating for workplace and housing equality, equal rights for same-sex couples, and an end to the ban on gay and lesbian military service, the Foundation continues to reach out to schools and corporations nationwide to encourage respect for human dignity and differences.