(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Earlier today in what can only be described as landmark legislation, the U.S. Senate passed the conference report for the FY 2010 Defense Authorization bill by a vote of 68 to 29, sending critical hate crimes legislation to the President’s desk. On October 8 the U.S. House successfully passed the conference report including the hate crimes provision. In July, the Senate voted to attach the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act to the Defense Authorization measure.
This federal bill would add gender identity, sexual orientation, gender and disability to the categories already covered by federal hate crimes law. President Obama has indicated that he will sign the bill when it reaches his desk.
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act gives the Justice Department the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violence where the perpetrator has selected the victim because of the person's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
If signed into law, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act will become the first piece of federal legislation offering specific protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity - marking a historic moment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.
"Passage of the federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act will be a huge victory for transgender people across the country," said Masen Davis, Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center. "We need this federal law to ensure that hate crimes are properly investigated and prosecuted in jurisdictions without specific protections for LGBT people.”
In 2002, Newark CA teenager Gwen Araujo was brutally murdered because of her gender identity. Her death was the first transgender case to be prosecuted as a hate crime under California's gender-identity inclusive law.
"It has been 7 years since we lost Gwen to a vicious hate crime," said Davis. "Transgender people are still victims of hate motivated violence way too often. The Hate Crimes Prevent Act would give the federal government the jurisdiction it needs to get involved."
Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese agrees.
“We’re in the home stretch,” said Solmonese. “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.”
This legislation was first introduced in the 105th Congress. Today’s vote was the 14th and final time there has been a floor vote on this historic legislation.
“We applaud the leadership of our Senate allies, particularly Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senators Patrick Leahy, Carl Levin, and Susan Collins for ensuring that the hate crimes provision remained part of this authorization bill. We also recognize the tireless efforts of Senator Ted Kennedy on this issue; a hero for our entire community,” said Solmonese.
Also among the organizations commending the Senate for passing the Defense Authorization measure is Lambda Legal.
"Years after the tragic murders of Matthew Shepard, Brandon Teena , Sakia Gunn and others our government is finally standing up and saying: No more,” Said Kevin Cathcart, Executive Director of Lambda Legal. “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."
Lambda Legal represented the family and estate of Brandon Teena, a transgender man who was brutally raped and murdered in Nebraska in 1993 (the subject of the movie "Boys Don’t Cry") to make sure that the law enforcement officials who had failed Teena were held accountable.
"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," Cathcart said.
"Now that the Hate Crimes Act has passed adding protections for all members of our community against violence motivated by hate, Congress must also pass 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."
“Americans are hungry for this type of positive change,” said Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “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.”