Monday, October 26, 2009

Matthew Shepard Remembered and Passed

We have all heard the news that the improved Hate Crimes Act - known as the Matthew Shepard Act - has been passed by the House and the Senate and is now awaiting a swish of the pen by President Obama. (which would make it an official law) There is a lot of emotion behind the passing of this bill. For one thing, it has been 10 years since the killers plead guilty for the brutal death of Matthew Shepard. For another, this is one of the largest federally mandated civil rights legislations ever passed for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community.

Thank you, Congress, for finally protecting my rights.


For some technicals, there is something you should know about the Bill: it was going to be passed no matter what. The bill was attached, this past June, to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 as an amendment. We're in a war. This bill authorizes the use of a whole mess of money for the Department of Defense. They call this situation a "must-pass," meaning that combining the act with a necessary bill - typically defense money - guarantees its passage. Yes, that means that our long-awaited Hate Crimes legislation is all part of pork barrel politics.

This new legislation would add to the protections for crimes based on race, religion, nationality, and ethnicity with the following:

  1. The Act also protects against crimes committed based on someone's gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. So it's good for more than just gay folks. If a rapist is raping you because you're a woman, that's a hate crime. If you're abused because it's funny to beat up on the wheelchair kid, that's a hate crime.
  2. The act takes away the prerequisite that the victim must be engaging in a federally-protected activity such as voting in order for the offender to be prosecuted with a hate crime. Isn't this something you already thought was protected? So, even if someone was attacking a black man in his home simply for being black, it wasn't a hate crime. It was...a regular crime... Didn't know that. Went to school for this. Still didn't know that.
  3. The act would provide $10 million in funding for 2008 and 2009 to help state and local agencies pay for investigating and prosecuting hate crimes.
  4. The act would finally require the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to track statistics on hate crimes against transgender people. Other genders are already protected.
So, now we wait on President Obama to swish that pen...

Oh Mr. Obamaaaa...!
Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte

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