Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

20 Years of Effort Led to the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Act of 2009

Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr.

Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr.

When President Obama signs the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Act of 2009 into law sometime next week, that moment will be the culmination of  two decades of tireless work at the federal level to protect Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual  and Transgender people from violent, bias-motivated crimes.  The term “hate crime” did not enter the American lexicon until the 1980s, though crimes of violence against minorities that caused whole groups to live in fear.  First introduced in 1989, Congress passed the Hate Crime Statistics Act (HCSA)  of 1990 which mandated the that U.S. Department of Justice collect statistics on crimes that “manifest prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity” from law enforcement agencies across the country and to publish an annual summary of the findings. In the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, Congress expanded coverage of the HCSA to require FBI reporting on crimes based on “disability.”  Pursuant to the passage of the HCSA of 1990 and at the request of the Attorney General of the United States, the FBI first gathered and published this data in 1992, and has done so every year since.   The collection and publication of data supporting the claims of the LGBT community, that they were indeed being targeted by terror-attacks, set the stage for all subsequent federal legislation relating to the protection of people who were being physically harmed because of actual or perceived sexual orientation.  Transgender persons have been left out of any data gathering done by the federal government right up until the present, as if there were no violent crimes perpetrated against this important population of gender non-conformists.  The FBI Sexual Orientation Hate Crimes Statistics for 2007, published in October 2008, recorded 1,512 persons or 11% of the total of the 9,535 persons victimized in physical attacks classified as hate crimes. This number of individual victims was the third highest of all victims of hate crimes, after race and religion bias crimes.  Further, the 2007 figures show that two and a half times more Lesbians, Gay men, and Bisexual persons were victimized by murder or non-negligent manslaughter than any other group on whom the FBI kept statistics that year.  Though flawed and under-counted according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, the incidence of violent crime against the LGBT community recorded by the FBI established something of the magnitude of the national crisis brought on by homophobia and heterosexism.  In 1993, the Hate Crimes Sentencing Enhancement Act was enacted into law, allowing judges to impose harsher penalties for hate crimes, including hate crimes based on gender, disability and sexual orientation that occur in national parks and on other federal property. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, predecessor of the Matthew Shepard Act, was first introduced in the 105th Congress. At that time, 1997-1999, both houses of the federal legislature had Republican majorities.  Successive attempts to pass federal hate crimes legislation covering LGBT people were frustrated until the 111th Congress.  First named the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act, then the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and finally the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (in memory of Shepard, a gay 21-year-old student murdered in Wyoming and Byrd, a 49-year-old African American dragged to death in Texas), the legislation moved steadily through Houses of Congress.  The vote in the United States Senate on October 22, 2009 was the “14th and final time” this legislation faced a vote on the floor in either the House or the Senate.

October 25, 2009 - Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, gay men, harassment, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Legislation, Matthew Shepard Act, Politics, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas, transgender persons, transphobia, U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C., Wyoming | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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