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November 6, 2009

 

Obama signs Shepard-Byrd hate crime bill into law

Measure is the first pro-LGBT federal act in two decades

Washington, D.C.--President Barack Obama on October 28 signed into law the first federal protections ever passed for LGBT people.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was an amendment to a defense appropriations bill, a tactic used during the Bush administration in an attempt to get it through a Republican-dominated Congress and White House.

The legislation adds sexual orientation, disability and gender to the existing federal definition of a hate crime, and removed requirements that the victim be engaged in a federally-protected activity at the time of the attack, like voting, before the government can step in.

While the bill does not mandate federal charges for a hate crime, it does allow the Justice Department to step in if local and state officials cannot or will not prosecute a bias-motivated crime. it also allows for federal resources, both financial and legal, for local and state prosecutors and law enforcement officials in dealing with hate crimes.

“You know, as a nation we’ve come far on the journey towards a more perfect union,” Obama said during a reception held in the East Room of the White House for the signing. “This is the culmination of a struggle that has lasted more than a decade.”

“Time and again, we faced opposition. Time and again, the measure was defeated or delayed. Time and again we’ve been reminded of the difficulty of building a nation in which we’re all free to live and love as we see fit,” he continued. “But the cause endured and the struggle continued, waged by the family of Matthew Shepard, by the family of James Byrd, by folks who held vigils and led marches, by those who rallied and organized and refused to give up, by the late Senator Ted Kennedy who fought so hard for this legislation, and all who toiled for years to reach this day.”

“You understood that we must stand against crimes that are meant not only to break bones, but to break spirits, not only to inflict harm, but to instill fear,” Obama noted. “You understand that the rights afforded every citizen under our Constitution mean nothing if we do not protect those rights, both from unjust laws and violent acts. And you understand how necessary this law continues to be.”

Matthew Shepard was a gay college student in Wyoming who was brutally beaten, tied to a fence and left for dead in 1998. James Byrd, Jr. was a black man who, the same year, was chained to the bumper of a pickup truck and dragged for three miles, killing him.

The hate crime measure is the first piece of pro-gay federal legislation to come up this year--and only the second significant one ever enacted. The Hate Crime Statistics Act, passed almost two decades ago in 1990, required the FBI to collect statistics on anti-gay hate crime.

Other bills are in the pipeline. On November 5, the Senate was set to hold hearings on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which could see passage by the end of the year. It bars job discrimination by sexual orientation or gender identity.

Other issues on the legislative agenda that affect LGBT Americans include repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on openly gay personnel and the so-called “defense of marriage act,” which bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages, even in states where they are legal.

The Obama administration has already ended a ban on entry into the United States for people with HIV last month, and introduced a resource center for LGBT elderly at the Department of Health and Human Services.

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This material is copyrighted by the Gay People’s Chronicle. Permission is given to repost no more than the headline, byline, and one or two paragraphs, with the full name of the Gay People’s Chronicle and a link to the full article on our website. Reproduction of the entire article is prohibited without specific written permission.

 

 

 

 

 


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