PFLAG National—Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays—is celebrating today’s passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The historic passage of this bill marks the first time that sexual orientation and gender identity have been included as protected categories in federal law.
In a speech earlier this month where he confirmed his support for the LGBT community and called PFLAG’s story, “the story of America,” President Obama announced that the bill was set to pass and pledged that he would sign it into law.
“PFLAG is proud of the members of the Senate who supported this important bill,” said PFLAG National Executive Director Jody Huckaby. “As we know, crimes against LGBT people have long been among the most violent and most numerous, and our loved ones have gone too long without protections afforded to other citizens. This bill is a tremendous step forward, but it is only a single step and there are many more to take, including passing ENDA to give LGBT workers more of the rights that their co-workers already enjoy.”
The Act is named for Matthew Shepard, a college student who was murdered in Laramie, Wyo., in 1998 because he was gay. Shepard’s murder brought the national spotlight to the issue of hate crimes against LGBT people. According to FBI statistics, hate crimes based on sexual orientation make up approximately 17 percent of all hate crimes. Considering that LGBT people make up approximately 3 percent of the U.S. population, the FBI statistics suggest that these individuals are victimized at a rate approximately 6 times higher than that of the average American.
The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act was introduced in the 111th Congress by Representatives John Conyers (D-MI) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) in the House, and the Matthew Shepard Act was introduced by the late Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) in the Senate. On April 29, 2009, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1913 by a vote of 249-175. On July 16, 2009, the Senate voted 63-28 to proceed with the Matthew Shepard Act as an amendment to the Department of Defense authorization bill, which passed the Senate with the Matthew Shepard Act as an amendment on July 23, 2009. The Senate and House versions of the bill were then reconciled in a conference committee. On October 8, 2009, the House voted to pass the conference report of the FY 2010 Defense Authorization bill, with the Matthew Shepard Act included, by a vote of 281-146.