President Obama has just signed the first ever piece of pro-LGBT federal legislation into law.
The Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act was attached to the Defense Authorization Bill and added gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability to existing hate crimes laws.
We have a long way to go, but today is historic. By signing, the President sends a clear message that it is not okay to kill gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Thanks to everyone who worked so hard for so many years on this legislation.
Reactions from the orgs - including a joint statement by 30 LGBT orgs - and Judy Shepard after the jump as they come in (check back for updates)...
Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew 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," 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."
"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."
Joint statement signed by:
Jo Kenny, AFL-CIO Pride at Work
Terry Stone, Centerlink: The Community of LGBT Centers
Gabe Javier & Debbie Bazarsky, Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals
Marianne Duddy-Burke, DignityUSA
Toni Broaddus, Equality Federation
Jennifer Chrisler, Family Equality Council
Evan Wolfson, Freedom to Marry
Lee Swislow, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders
Rebecca Allison, M.D., Gay & Lesbian Medical Association
Chuck Wolfe, Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund
Eliza Byard, Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network
Marjorie Hill, Gay Men's Health Crisis
Joe Solmonese, Human Rights Campaign
Rachel Tiven, Immigration Equality
Earl Fowlkes, International Federation of Black Prides
Kevin M. Cathcart, Lambda Legal
Leslie Calman, Mautner Project: The National Lesbian Health Organization
Sharon Lettman, National Black Justice Coalition
Kate Kendell, National Center for Lesbian Rights
Mara Keisling, National Center for Transgender Equality
Justin Nelson, National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
Rea Carey, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
Paul Kawata, National Minority AIDS Council
Kyle Bailey, National Stonewall Democrats
Greg Varnum, National Youth Advocacy Coalition
Sharon Stapel, New York Anti-Violence Project
Selisse Berry, Out & Equal Workplace Advocates
Jody Michael Huckaby, PFLAG National
Michael Adams, Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE)
Aubrey Sarvis, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network
History in the Making
It took much too long, more than a decade. And it came at too great a price: the brutal killings of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. are just two among the thousands of crimes motivated by hate and bigotry.
But this week, the president put pen to paper and fulfilled a campaign promise, the signing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, extending the federal hate crimes statute to include sexual orientation and gender identity along with race, religion, gender, national origin and disability. Our deepest hope and strong belief is that this new law will save lives. Now, lawmakers and the president have made an imperative statement to the country and the world: Our nation will no longer tolerate hate-motivated violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
We have worked long and hard for this and its passage is historic.
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 those incidents involve violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity. And even more alarming, while the overall occurrence of hate crimes is declining nationally, hate crimes against LGBT people have been increasing. This year alone, we saw hate crimes trials in the brutal killings of two transgender women, Angie Zapata and Lateisha Green.
As a result of this legislation, if local jurisdictions are unable or unwilling to investigate or prosecute hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity, the Justice Department can now step in. And that's why the LGBT community never stopped working for this historic day.
This legislation not only has practical value, but is a symbol of our progress. It is the first time in the nation's history that Congress has passed explicit protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. We could not have reached this moment without the powerful support of our allies who stood with us every step of the way. We are deeply grateful to civil rights, civic, faith and disability rights groups, as well as law enforcement and district attorney organizations that worked side by side with the LGBT advocates. We are equally thankful to Congress, President Obama and members of his administration for passing and signing this bill into law.
While today we celebrate this marker of progress, we must recognize it as only one of the building blocks to full equality and demand that it be just a first step toward equal treatment under federal law in all areas of our lives. And we must focus on the next step.
The passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act provides us with an opportunity. We must use this moment to educate and keep the momentum going so that we can continue to make progress on the local, state and federal levels. Yes, legislation takes a long time -- often years of work. Yet, our community is on the cusp of passing much-needed protections.
This week, we call upon lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, families and allies to take this opportunity of increased media and public attention on hate crimes to educate co-workers, classmates, neighbors, family members and friends about our lives, and about why we need not only their friendship and love, but their vocal support for a more just and equal America for LGBT people. If your members of Congress voted in support of hate crimes legislation, call them and thank them. Then ask them to be there for us again when the vote turns to workplace nondiscrimination, military service and partnership rights.
With your help and our collective pressure, equality is within reach.
When talking about the need for hate crimes legislation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: "The time for debate is over."
She was right.
Just as the time has finally come for stronger hate crime protections, it is also time to pass an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, and ensure that health care, economic policy and immigration reform incorporate the needs of LGBT people.
It's Official: The FIRST Pro-Trans Law in US History
"This is a powerful day as the United States government, for the first time, stands up and declares that violence against transgender people is wrong and will not be tolerated in our country," stated Mara Keisling, the Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. "Every day transgender people live with the reality and the threat of personal violence, simply because of who they are. This must end and it must end now. The new law provides for some vital first steps in preventing these terrible crimes as well as addressing them when they occur. At NCTE, we are dedicating this day to all those who have been victims of hate-motivated violence as well as recommitting ourselves to ending the epidemic of hate that continues to damage our communities and our country."
Most importantly, this law marks a turning point for the federal government, by including positive protections for transgender people and taking seriously the need to address the discrimination that we face.
This law will send a message that violence motivated by hate will not be tolerated in this country and is a welcome first step towards other critical protections for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
This law comes too late to provide justice for the victims of violence we have already lost, but it holds the promise of greater safety and respect for LGBT people today and in the future.
Our work is not done. Now that the Hate Crimes Act has become law, Congress and the President must also enact an inclusive ENDA to protect us against discrimination on the job. The majority of Americans support workplace protections for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people and there is no reason for further delay. There is also no reason to delay the repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- there should be no place for discrimination in our laws.
From Equality Across America:
"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," said Tanner Efinger of Equality Across America.
Passage of the Act shows that escalated protest over the past year, such as at the National Equality March (NEM) on October 11th, is putting significant pressure on Congress to address anti-LGBT discrimination.
"We applaud and congratulate Matthew Shepard's mom, Judy, who has inspired so many over the last eleven years and did so again when she spoke at the National Equality March, this October," said Robin McGehee, co-director of the NEM. "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."
"This law honors our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters whose lives were cut short because of hate," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "Today's signing of the first major piece of civil rights legislation to protect LGBT Americans represents a historic milestone in the inevitable march towards equality. Although this is a major step in fighting the scourge of hate violence, it is not the end of the road. As a community, we will continue to dedicate ourselves to changing not only laws but also hearts and minds. We know that hate crimes not only harm individuals, but they terrorize entire communities. After more than a decade of advocacy, local police and sheriffs' departments now have the full resources of the Justice Department available to them."
"We applaud President Obama for signing this bill into law and thank the leadership and our allies in the House and Senate. We also will always remember the tireless efforts of Senator Edward Kennedy on this issue. Senator Kennedy once said that this legislation sends 'a message about freedom and equality that will resonate around the world.' This marks the first time that we as a nation have explicitly protected the LGBT community in the law. And this law sends a loud message that perpetrators of hate violence against anyone will be brought to justice," said Solmonese.
LA Gay & Lesbian Center CEO Lorri Jean:
"I applaud Congress and President Obama for making the Hate Crimes Prevention Act the law of the land. Today the United States took a very important step in recognizing that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender victims of hate crimes deserve the same protections as other groups targeted by hate-motivated violence. The President and Congress have sent a clear message that hate-motivated violence must not be tolerated and that those who engage in it will be punished.
"I hope this Act is a harbinger of things to come. While punishing those who commit hate crimes is important, what we really need is an end to such violence altogether. But as long as LGBT people are treated as second class citizens under federal law - be that in employment, in the military or with regard to federal benefits - we will continue to fall victim not only to the economic and psychological harms of discrimination, but to hate violence as its ultimate expression.
"Every day we are treated as less than equal, we are hurt. President Obama and the Congress can stop the pain. We urge them to work together to quickly pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. We also urge the expeditious repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and an end to anti-gay discrimination in the provision of federal benefits such as social security. We cannot afford to rest until we have achieved full equality."
GLAAD President Jarrett Barios:
"With this law, President Obama and Congress have sent a message that violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is wrong and that our community should not be excluded from the protections of our nation's laws. This is a landmark step in eliminating the kind of hate motivated violence that has taken the lives of so many in our community including Brandon Teena, Matthew Shepard, Fred Martinez, Gwen Araujo, Sakia Gunn, Sean Kennedy, Angie Zapata, Duanna Johnson, Lateisha Green and so many others. The visibility of these tragic losses and the conversations that they sparked brought us to today's historic step toward ending this violence."
"We especially thank Judy and Dennis Shepard and so many of the families of those who have lost their lives to hate violence for their tireless commitment, along with so many individuals and organizations, to educate people about the importance of this legislation."
"Today is another step toward full equality, where LGBT people can be respected and feel safe in our communities with the knowledge that the laws will protect us too. Our community's work is far from over and media have the same responsibility today as they've always had: to continue telling the stories of LGBT victims of hate violence until the day that anti-LGBT violence is truly and finally a thing of the past."
Transgender American Veterans Association:
The Transgender American Veterans Association would like to say how proud we are of the individuals in our organization who have worked fierily over the last decade to have helped make the signing today of the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act a reality. As veterans, we are proud of our service to this country. Some of us have had our lives in danger and been wounded protecting this country and the rights of the people in this country, only to be told that we do not deserve those same rights. This never made sense to any veteran.
Today, the United States of America came one step closer in telling transgender veterans and ALL LGBT people that the sacrifices we have given for decades to keep this country free and secure are finally appreciated. In 2008, TAVA and the nation saw first hand, through our survey, the toll that hate has taken on our veterans. And, with a stroke of a pen, President Obama has eased some of their pain.
And, on a personal note, I have seen hate take the lives of some of my friends. I am sure that along with Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, they stood beside the President and watched him sign the bill. Their lives now have meaning, as do the thousands of other LGBT people taken from us because of hate. TAVA salutes all of them, and President Obama.