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(October 22, 2009, Washington, DC) In an historic move, the United States Senate, by a vote of 68 to 29, joined the House of Representatives in passing The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which will be the first federal law to include gender identity and transgender people. Once signed by the President, this law will add sexual orientation, gender identity, gender and disability to the categories included in existing federal hate crimes law and will allow local governments who are unable or unwilling to address hate crimes to receive assistance from the federal government. President Obama has indicated that he will sign the bill into law.
“Transgender people have been waiting so many years for assistance from the federal government in addressing the rampant and disproportional violence that we face,” noted Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “Today we move one step closer to our goal of ending violence motivated by hatred. Everyone in America deserves to live free of fear and of violence. We know that the dedicated leadership and hard work of Senator Kennedy and Representative Conyers and many other legislators made the passage of this bill possible. Words can’t really express our gratitude for their commitment to equality for all people.”
In the past, federal law has only mentioned gender identity in a negative context, such as explicitly excluding transgender people from the Americans with Disabilities Act. The passage of the hate crimes bill marks a significant turning point from the days in which the federal government contributed to the oppression of transgender people to today when federal law takes action to protect our lives.
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act will have a number of positive impacts. First, it will help educate law enforcement about the frequent hate violence against transgender people and the need to prevent and appropriately address it. Second, it will help provide federal expertise and resources when it is needed to overcome a lack of resources or the willful inaction on the part of local and/or state law enforcement. Third, it will help educate the public that violence against anyone is unacceptable and illegal.
Transgender people continue to be disproportionately targeted for bias motivated violence. Thirteen states and Washington, DC have laws which include transgender people in state hate crimes laws.
National Gay & Lesbian Task Force: Passage of federal hate crimes bill marks ‘milestone for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans’
October 22, 2009
Director of Communications
“With his signature, President Obama will usher in a new era — one in which hate-motivated violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will no longer be tolerated.”
— National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey
WASHINGTON, Oct. 22 — The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund called today’s Senate passage of federal hate crimes legislation “a milestone for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans” and the entire country. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act will help protect people against violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, gender, national origin and disability by extending the federal hate crimes statute. It will provide critical federal resources to state and local agencies to equip local officers with the tools they need to prosecute hate crimes. The House passed the bill Oct. 8. It now moves to President Obama, who has vowed to sign it.
The Task Force has been a key leader in the effort to secure an effective and full government response to hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the United States, beginning with the launch of its groundbreaking anti-violence project in 1982, up to today’s victory. Get more details here about the Task Force’s longtime work on hate crimes.
Statement by Rea Carey, Executive Director
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund
“Today’s vote marks a milestone for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. The hate crimes bill now shifts to the president. With his signature, President Obama will usher in a new era — one in which hate-motivated violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will no longer be tolerated. Our country will finally take an unequivocal stand against the bigotry that too often leads to violence against LGBT people, simply for being who they are.
“Americans are hungry for this type of positive change. They do not want to see their LGBT friends, family, neighbors and co-workers subjected to violence simply for living their lives. Laws embody the values of our nation; when this critical legislation becomes law, our nation will — once and for all — send the unmistakable message that it rejects and condemns hate violence against its people.
“We thank all the federal lawmakers who have supported this effort, both today and over the years. We are on the cusp of a new, and better, chapter in America.”
More on the Task Force’s work on hate crimes legislation
Passage of hate crimes legislation stems from decades of work, much of it spearheaded by the Task Force, including:
- In 1982, the Task Force founded the groundbreaking anti-violence project, the first national organizing project for anti-LGBT hate crimes.
- In 1990, the Task Force secured the Hate Crimes Statistics Act, in large part justified by the Task Force’s own statistics on hate crimes against LGBT people. The Hate Crimes Statistics Act was pushed so that national data could build the foundation for a hate crimes law.
- Murders and arsons, some anti-LGBT and others based on race and other characteristics, led President Bill Clinton to call for a White House Summit on Hate Crimes in 1997, attended by then-Task Force Executive Director Kerry Lobel, where she delivered a petition signed by LGBT people all over the country asking for a serious response to anti-LGBT hate crimes. Out of this meeting, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act (the predecessor to today’s legislation) was written; it fixed several problems with the existing hate crimes law on race, religion and national origin, and added sexual orientation, gender and disability to the law.
- In 2001, the Task Force started its work to add gender identity to the bill. Over the course of years and bringing along coalition partners, the Task Force secured a “gender identity” addition into the House legislation in 2005, with the Senate bill becoming transgender-inclusive in 2007.
- The Task Force continued to advocate for the bill’s passage, repeatedly activating its membership.
- In 2009, when the hate crimes bill was added to the Department of Defense authorization bill and a death penalty provision was added in the Senate, the Task Force spoke out about the immorality of inclusion of the death penalty and activated its grassroots to urge the provision be struck from the final language. The conference committee ultimately removed the capital punishment language.