Yesterday the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act was introduced in the Senate. At yesterdays press conference Senators Kennedy and Smith also announced that the interminably long and obfuscating bill name has been changed to the "Matthew Shepard Act".
This is an very smart move. Hate Crimes legislation has passed both the house and senate at various times, but has never been signed into law.
What happened to Matthew Shepherd was an outrage that shocked the American psyche. Yet it has been more than eight years since his brutal murder and there is still no Federal Hate Crimes bill protection based on actual or perceived sexual orientation. Opposing hate crimes legislation named in his honor will be a challenge to even the most committed opponents of LGBT civil rights in congress.
Here is Judy Shepard's quote from the Matthew Shepard Foundation's press release:
''The reintroduction of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLEHCPA) in the House of Representatives last night marks a very important moment for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community.
For far too long violence motivated by hatred against GLBT individuals has gone unrecognized by the Federal Government as well as many local agencies. The LLEHCPA will provide local law enforcement with the added resources and support needed for investigating and prosecuting serious hate crimes that are not currently included in existing law.
The investigation of Matthew's murder and the trial of his killers cost Albany County in Wyoming more than $150,000. This unplanned financial burden forced the Sheriff's Department to furlough five of its employees. If the LLEHCPA had been the law of the land in 1998, this reduction in vital staff could have been averted, while still ensuring that justice was served for my son.
As citizens of this great country, we have an opportunity right now to ensure that this vital piece of legislation is enacted. Since Matthew was killed in 1998 for being gay, almost 10,000 violent acts of hate against individuals based on their sexual orientation have been reported to the authorities. Whether it is for Matthew or for the victims of the thousands of other violent hate crimes that have taken place over the years, I urge the GLBT community and its allies to make the passage of this bill a top priority.
Please contact your representative today to ask them to co-sponsor the LLEHCPA or thank them if they have already signed up. We all have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of millions, please act today.''
Today, many other groups are already protected by Federal Hate Crimes law while LGBT people, who are disproportionately victims of hate crimes when compared with these other groups in the population, struggle to get the same level of protection.
It remains to be seen what approach opponents of the Matthew Shepard Act will take from here on.