Thursday, October 22, 2009

U.S. Senate passes hate crimes bill

In a 68-29 vote, the U.S. Senate passed a bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal hate crimes legislation.

The Senate voted in July to attach the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act, named in honor of Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard and Texas resident James Byrd, Jr., to the Defense Authorization for the 2010 fiscal year. The House of Representatives passed the bill earlier this month. And the president has pledged to sign it once it comes to his desk.

Activists within the movement for LGBT rights were quick to applaud the vote as historic.

“We’re in the home stretch," Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese said. “We look forward to President Obama signing it into law; our nation’s first major piece of civil rights legislation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Too many in our community have been devastated by hate violence. We now can begin the important steps to erasing hate in our country.”

Judy Shepard, president of the Matthew Shepard Foundation's board, agreed.

"Dennis and I are extremely proud of the Senate for once again passing this historic measure of protection for victims of these brutal crimes,” she said. “Knowing that the president will sign it, unlike his predecessor, has made all the hard work this year to pass it worthwhile. Hate crimes continue to affect far too many Americans who are simply trying to live their lives honestly, and they need to know that their government will protect them from violence, and provide appropriate justice for victims and their families."

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Rights, echoed the Shepards, Solmonese and others.

"Transgender people have been waiting so many years for assistance from the federal government in addressing the rampant and disproportional violence that we face," she said. "Today we move one step closer to our goal of ending violence motivated by hatred."

The attack against College Point, Queens, resident Jack Price earlier this month and far too many others certainly prove legislation alone does not deter those who seek to commit violence based on anti-LGBT bias or hatred. The Senate's vote, however, sends a very powerful message to the country the federal government is willing to recognize LGBT Americans are entitled to basic dignity and protections. Today's vote is indeed historic, and I look forward to the president's signature.

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