Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Our Pets are First Victims of Right-Wing Hate: Response to Arkansas Cat Murder

Pet cat killed because of hate. Picture provided by Blue Arkansas who wrote: "It is included here not for shock value, but to show just how heinous some people can be."

Russellville, Arkansas – Jake Burris, campaign manager for Democratic Congressional candidate Ken Aden, came home with his four children to find their pet cat slaughtered on the front porch.  “LIBERAL” was scrawled in magic marker on the lifeless body. In a clear example of terrorism, the innocent animal had been bashed in the head and left so that it could not be missed by Burris, who is locked in a tight campaign struggle against a right-wing Republican opponent to elect his candidate to the U.S. House of Representatives.  But instead of Burris finding the carcass of the family pet before his children, his little boy found their kitty first.  Blue Arkansas wrote movingly about this atrocity:

“This is terrorism.  There’s no other word for it.  A police report has been filed.  Jake said the kids seem to be handling it okay.  The one that discovered the cat was too young to be able to read and Jake had quickly gotten the others into the house before they saw it.  Pope County is an insanely conservative area and the Aden campaign has been shaking things up even there and it looks like another right wing sociopath with a taste for violence has come crawling out of the woodwork in response.  I asked Aden for a comment on the record:

‘“This is sickening.  To kill a child’s pet…I’m at a loss for words…I’ve seen the best and the worst of humanity, but this is something else.”’

Defenseless, innocent victims pay the price of hate ideology and violence first–our pets.  Violence against human victims is underreported, but statistics on this dimension of hate violence are non-existent. The numbers of pets slain in hate killings must be astronomical. Political liberals, progressives, LGBTQ people, women, racial/ethnic minorities have all experienced the terrible shock, anger, and raw fear Jake Burris and his family faced yesterday at the hands of irrational hate groups who send a message of terror by killing cats, dogs, birds and other family pets.

The murder of pet animals is often a prelude to anti-human violence.  Gay man Charlie Howard found his cat dead on the front steps of his apartment in Bangor, Maine with its neck broken shortly before a gang of Bangor’s youth threw him off the State Street Bridge. Friends of Charlie’s said that after he found his cat killed, he became depressed and fearful. He had every reason to be, as it turned out. Charlie drowned in Kenduskeag Stream because three boys hated him because of his sexual orientation.  The pet killing was a telegraphic message of homophobia, sent from people who warmed up to killing Charlie by taking the life of his companion.

I know the feeling that terrorized Charlie Howard and that the Jake Burris and his family face now.  In the early 1990’s, I came home from pastoral hospital visits to parishioners to find my English Bulldog Buck and my Basset Hound Beau butchered, hanging up in a tree in my Eastern NC parsonage yard.  Anonymous opponents suspected I was gay, and tried to drive me out of the church I was serving by slaughtering my pets.  In those days, I lived a single, closeted life, serving churches with the fear of discovery of my sexual orientation. My dogs were my only companions, and paid the ultimate price because cowards thought I would run.  I did not run.  I stayed at the church and fought back successfully.  But the loss is still with me.

Reuters reports that the campaign of Republican incumbent Steve Womack, Aden’s opponent in the heavily conservative 3rd District of Arkansas, has condemned the killing of Burris’s cat.  Candidate Aden and Burris said they do not believe anyone in the Womack campaign perpetrated the crime.  The Russellville Police Department is treating this incident as an animal cruelty case, and the investigation is ongoing. But the fact remains that the atmosphere of irrational hatred propounded by unreasoning prejudice is lethal.

Jake Burris told Blue Arkansas, “I’ve got a gun and I know how to use it. If I have to protect my kids I’ll do it without hesitation.”  

We have a duty to all life to find a cure for hate.  Our pets pay as terrible a price as we do because of hate violence.  Perhaps the shock of a story like this can awaken the consciences of our neighbors to work with us to create a world safe for all creatures to live without fear.    ~ Stephen V. Sprinkle, Founder and Director of the Unfinished Lives Project, Associate Prof at Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, Texas

January 23, 2012 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Arkansas, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Pet killings, Slurs and epithets, Special Comments, transphobia, U.S. House of Representatives | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Our Pets are First Victims of Right-Wing Hate: Response to Arkansas Cat Murder

Hate-filled Climate Named as “Suspect” in Arizona Congresswoman’s Shooting

Tucson, Arizona – The toxic climate of hate speech in the United States has been named as a “suspect” in the attempted assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) on Saturday. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois used former Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s inflammatory rhetoric (“Don’t retreat, reload!”) as an example of the caustic political climate characteristic of political speech in America, and called for all parties to refrain from demonization and hate speech, according to the Huffington Post and AP reports. Giffords was shot through the head, six others were killed, and a total of 16 people wounded in an attack on the Congresswoman’s open-air “Congress On Your Corner” event held in Tucson at a Safeway Supermarket location. A 22-year-old, Jared Loughner, was tackled by two attendees, and subsequently arrested for the attempted assassination of Representative Giffords. While the investigation is proceeding against Loughner, who may have ties to an extremist political group called “American Renaissance,” officials across the nation are decrying the hate speech so prevalent in American discourse on virtually every level of the nation’s life. Sheriff Clarence Dupnik of Pima County, Arizona, where the shooting took place on Saturday, told the Associated Press: “I think that when the rhetoric about hatred, about mistrust of government, about paranoia of how government operates and to try to inflame the public on a daily basis, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, has impact on people especially who are unbalanced personalities to begin with.” Sheriff Dupnik went on to liken Arizona as the “Tombstone of the United States,” in apparent reference to the lawless legacy of violence in the Wild West of the late 19th century. The U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona has issued a complaint against Jared Lee Loughner, charging him with federal crimes, including the murder of individuals performing their duties as government officials, and the attempted assassination of a member of Congress. Lawmakers are vociferously condemning the demonizing rhetoric of recent years in the wake of the shooting, but the roots of American hate speech and the culture of violence so rife in American life are being left untouched. For decades, minority groups like the LGBTQ community in the United States have suffered the effects of intolerance and hate speech, as well as the violence that such irresponsible language spawns. While pundits may debate the linkage between hate speech and hate violence, the dead in every state in the nation give mute testimony to the effects of bias-motivated acts carried out by individuals and groups espousing the sub-humanity of their targets. Hate speech leads to hateful deeds, as Sheriff Dupnik, making reference to the mental state of the assailant in Saturday’s attack, asserted to the Washington Post: “There’s reason to believe that this individual may have a mental issue. And I think people who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol,” he said during his televised remarks. “People tend to pooh-pooh this business about all the vitriol we hear inflaming the American public by people who make a living off of doing that. That may be free speech, but it’s not without consequences.” U. S. Senator Diane Feinstein, who discovered the body of gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk after his assassination, spoke to the consequences of hate-filled rhetoric: “I have seen firsthand the effects of assassination, and there is no place for this kind of violence in our political discourse. It must be universally condemned. We do not yet know the gunman’s motivations, but I am convinced that we must reject extremism and violent rhetoric.” Jared Lee Loughner is the prime suspect in the terror-attack on Congresswoman Giffords, Federal Judge Roll, and the other victims of the Tucson rampage. But bias-driven hate speech in American life, that terrorizes minorities, political opponents, and cultural adversaries, belongs in the dock in the wake of this outrage every bit as much as the man who was apparently motivated to kill and maim by the angry words he heard for most of his young life.

January 9, 2011 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, Arizona, death threats, gun violence, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, hate speech, Law and Order, multiple homicide, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Sarah Palin, Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, women | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Repeal and Remembrance: Gay Military Martyrs and the End of DADT

Fallen Military Servicemembers

Washington, DC – On a red letter day when lawmakers voted to end the most notorious anti-gay policy in the federal canon, LGBT servicemembers and veterans who have been murdered because of their sexual and gender non-conformity must not be forgotten during the celebrations over passage of repeal of DADT.  In a historic vote in the history of the human rights movement, the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to end the ban on LGBT patriots from serving openly in the armed services of the United States.  Saturday afternoon, 65 Senators voted for repeal with 31 in opposition. A simple majority of 51 was all that was required for passage of the Senate bill, which is identical to the one passed earlier in the week  by the House of Representatives. Eight GOP Senators joined their Democratic colleagues to pass the repeal of the 17-year-old discriminatory policy that ended the military careers of 13,500 women and men because of their sexual orientation. Joe Manchin, the freshman Senator for West Virginia, was the only Democrat not voting for passage.  According to the New York Times, his office informed the public that he had a “family commitment” he could not break.The bill now goes to President Obama for his signature to set the repeal in motion.  GOP opponents of the repeal criticized the Democratic leadership of the Senate for the vote in the lame duck session just before the Holiday recess.  Senator Carl Levin, the chair of the Senate Armed Service Committee, disputed the Republican claims that Democrats were ramming legislation through just to please the so-called “gay lobby.” In remarks to the New York Times, Senator Levin (D-Michigan) said: “I’m not here for partisan reasons. I’m here because men and women wearing the uniform of the United States who are gay and lesbian have died for this country, because gay and lesbian men and women wearing the uniform of this country have their lives on the line right now.” Yet it is not only for the living that this vote is significant. Our military dead are honored by this historic vote to end anti-LGBT discrimination, among whom are far too many gay servicemembers who were killed because of their sexual orientation. Our gay military martyrs, murdered because of homophobia, heterosexism, and transphobia in the armed services loom large in the memory of the LGBTQ community today because they are both a sign of hope and caution. They are a sign of hope that no more women and men need lose their lives in the military because of their sexual orientation and gender presentation. They are a sign of caution, because the passage of DADT repeal in no way guarantees the end of anti-gay violence in the military.  We must name our LGBT military dead until violence against queer servicemembers ceases forever: Seaman Allen Schindler was beaten to death by shipmates in a public toilet in Sasebo, Japan. PFC Barry Winchell was murdered with a baseball bat in the Army barracks at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Seaman August Provost was shot to death on base in San Diego, and then his body was set afire in a guard shack in the vain attempt to destroy evidence of the murder. Army veteran Michael Scott Goucher was lured into a fatal ambush by local youths near his home in Pennsylvania. These four are representative of the many more slaughtered by ignorance and hate by fellow servicemembers and civilians. Pundits say that after President Obama signs the Repeal Act into law, it will still take at least sixty days for the military ban to be lifted for LGBT military personnel. Until that time, the current discriminatory law stays in effect. But the culture of violence that harasses and kills LGBT women and men who wear the uniform remains virulently poised to take more lives until the root of fear is eliminated in the armed services.  To that end, the historic passage of the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is simply the beginning of a new campaign, in the name of our gay military martyrs, to replace the fear and loathing of the sexual minority with education and respect.

December 19, 2010 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Asian Americans, Bisexual persons, Bludgeoning, California, DADT, Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), gay men, gun violence, harassment, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, Illinois, immolation, Kentucky, Latino and Latina Americans, Law and Order, Legislation, Lesbian women, military, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Politics, Remembrances, Special Comments, Texas, transgender persons, transphobia, U.S. Army, U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy, U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Repeal and Remembrance: Gay Military Martyrs and the End of DADT

Judge Puts Off Murder Trial of Gay Puerto Rican Teen’s Confessed Killer

San Juan, Puerto Rico – In a controversial move, a Puerto Rican judge has postponed the murder trial of Juan José Martínez Matos (pictured at left) who confessed to the grisly decapitation, dismemberment, and immolation of the body of 19-year-old Jorge Steven López Mercado in November 2009.  In the intervening months since his arrest, Martínez Matos has claimed gay panic and childhood sexual abuse as rationalizations for the murder he says he committed when he “discovered” that the gay teen was homosexual during a tryst.  A psychiatric examination has deemed Martínez Matos competent to stand trial for the crime. EDGE reports that Judge Myriam Camila Justino announced on March 8th Juan José Martínez Matos’ trial would begin in Caguas on April 14th, not on March 30th as previously announced.  No reason was given in the press for the postponement.  López Mercado’s horrific murder, arguably the worst anti-LGBT hate crime in Puerto Rico’s history, has served as a magnet both for homophobic/heterosexist prejudice and for social justice advocacy on behalf of the LGBT population on the island.  Law enforcement officers intimated to the press that the gay teen somehow got what he had coming to him because of his sexual orientation, comments that ignited a firestorm of protest both in Puerto Rico and on the U.S. mainland.  Attempts to besmirch the slain teenager’s character, thereby lessening the sympathy of the public for his killing, were made early on in the reportage surrounding the case.  Most recently, details of López Mercado’s alleged drug use and sex work have been brandished in the press.  Social action advocates for human rights such as Pedro Julio Serrano have repeatedly beaten back such character attacking tactics by reminding the public that the slain teenager is not on trial here–his alleged murderer is.  Politicians in the United States from the U.S. Congress and from New York city and state governments have traveled to Puerto Rico in recent months to focus attention on the plight of LGBT people in the U.S. Territory, and to express solidarity with the victim’s family.  Large protests have been staged in San Juan and in cities around that nation such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, Dallas, Boston, and Washington, D.C.  The passage of the James Byrd, Jr. and Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act in October has set the stage for violence against LGBT people in Puerto Rico to be investigated in more effective ways than ever before.  Though a Puerto Rican law made violence against LGBT people there illegal, no one has ever been prosecuted under the provisions of the law until this case.  It remains to be seen if the power of cultural phobias and traditional religious antipathy to LGBT people will significantly impact the outcome of this trial.  But first the defendant must have his day in court, barring his petition to avoid a jury trial altogether.

March 9, 2010 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Blame the victim, Character assassination, Decapitation and dismemberment, gay men, gay panic defense, gay teens, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, immolation, Latino and Latina Americans, Law and Order, Legislation, Matthew Shepard Act, New York, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Popular Culture, Protests and Demonstrations, Puerto Rico, religious intolerance, Social Justice Advocacy, stabbings, U.S. House of Representatives | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Judge Puts Off Murder Trial of Gay Puerto Rican Teen’s Confessed Killer

Gay Teen’s Murder Inspired Federal Student Non-Discrimination Act

Seattle students celebrate Pride, photo by jglsongs

Washington, DC – The execution-style murder of a 15-year-old gay boy inspired an openly gay Congressman to author the Student Non-Discrimination Act.  Lawrence “Larry” Fobes King was shot twice in the back of the head two years ago by a fellow computer class student, 14-year-old Brandon McInerney at E.O. Green Middle School in Oxnard, California.  Now, even before McInerney stands trial for murdering his gender non-conforming classmate, Congress will consider the proposed law which for the first time would make it unlawful throughout the country for a any school receiving federal aid to discriminate against a person because of a perception that the individual is gay or lesbian.  As VCStar.com reports, “Under the proposed law, known as the Student Non-Discrimination Act, gay and lesbian students in public schools could not be excluded from participating in or be subject to discrimination under any educational program that receives federal assistance. Discrimination would include harassment, which is defined as acts of ‘verbal, nonverbal or physical aggression,’ as well as intimidation or hostility based upon a student’s actual or perceived sexual orientation.”  Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado), the author and primary sponsor of the bill said that King’s death was foremost in his mind as he framed this legislation and promoted it among his colleagues. “I absolutely had Larry King in mind and other kids like him,” he told reporters.  In an interview with DCAgenda.com, Polis said the legislation would give schools across the country tools to fight against discrimination that includes “everything from exclusion from prom, to banning clubs, to lack of actions addressing bullying situations.” Polis continued, “Gays and lesbians across the country face discrimination and frequently institutionalized discrimination in many school districts, and giving them a federal remedy, just as girls do and minorities, will help address this.”  The bill, H.R. 4530, has good support in Congress, with 65 co-sponsors including Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts).  Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) is reviewing the legislation which Polis introduced in late January 2010.  Nine out of ten LGBT students in middle and secondary schools throughout the nation report that they have been harassed because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, and 61 per cent of them say they feel unsafe in their schools because of attitudes about their sexuality, according to GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.  According to his school friends, Larry King suffered repeated harassment because of his feminine self-presentation.  He sometimes wore jewelry and dressed in high heels and feminine apparel.  Students have confirmed that he had tense exchanges with McInerney in the weeks before the fatal shooting.  Rep. Lois Capps (D-California), one of the bill’s co-sponsors and the Congresswoman representing Oxnard where King was murdered, told the VC Star, “Larry’s murder was particularly painful because it happened at his school, a place that should have been a sacred space where he could grow and learn in a safe and supportive environment.”  School officials in Oxnard contend they did nothing wrong, so the proposed law would not affect them.  Their critics, among them LGBT activists in Southern California, counter that nothing substantive has been done to address the underlying hatred that permitted one of their students to act out his phobia on another, to the point of murder.  McInerney, who is to be tried as an adult because of indications of pre-meditation of the crime, has pleaded not guilty to murder and hate crimes charges in the case.

February 20, 2010 Posted by | Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bisexual persons, Bullying in schools, California, Colorado, gay teens, gun violence, harassment, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, Legislation, Lesbian women, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Politics, School and church shootings, Social Justice Advocacy, transgender persons, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Demands for Justice in Slaying of Gay Teen in Puerto Rico

San Juan, Puerto Rico – The Associated Press reports this evening that in response to mounting pressure from local LGBT activists and the large and vocal Puerto Rican communities in New York and Chicago, the FBI and the United States Attorney’s Office is seriously considering entering the effort to investigate and prosecute Jorge Steven López Mercado’s alleged killer as a hate crime under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act, signed into law last month by President Barack Obama.  Two members of Congress from New York of Puerto Rican descent, U.S. Representative José E. Serrano and U.S. Representative Nydia Velasquez, have both added their influence to bring the U.S. Justice Department into the case.  Puerto Rican police officials have signaled their willingness to proceed with the investigation as a possible anti-LGBT hate crime, as well.  A prosecutor who interviewed Juan Antonio Martínez Matos, the alleged murderer, said that he confessed to have stabbed 19-year-old López Mercado after he discovered that he had solicited sex from a male and not a female.  The prosecutor, José Bermudez Santos, remarked to a local newspaper that  Matos said he met his victim Thursday night in a section known for prostitution.  The confessed killer went on to say that López Mercado was wearing a dress at the time.  “He [Matos] has a deep-seated rage,” Santos went on to say.  Matos was charged on Wednesday with first-degree murder and weapons violations, and then jailed with a $4 million bond.  Should he be convicted, he would likely face life in prison without hope of parole.  Puerto Rican LGBT advocates have been quick to bring the focus of media back to the heinous nature of the crime, rather than the alleged descriptions of the victim.  They insist that no one lose sight of the fact that a horrific crime has been committed against a well-known member of their community, a young person who volunteered for HIV prevention and for gay rights.  Local LGBT rights activist, Pedro Julio Serrano, who represents the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Puerto Rico, said that there had been more than 10 anti-LGBT murders on the island in the last seven years that should have been investigated as hate crimes.  While there is a statute on the books concerning hate crimes already, enacted into law in 2002, sexual orientation has never been permitted as a protected category.  Should the murder of López Mercado be prosecuted as a bias-related crime, it will be a first in Puerto Rican history.  “The people of Puerto Rico are very inclusive and accepting of differences,” Serrano remarked to the AP. “I think these kinds of crimes show the ugly side of homophobia, but it’s a minority of people that are willing to be so violent in expressing their prejudice.”  LGBT historians note that Puerto Rico has a grim heritage of homophobic and transphobic crimes.  According to the Enquirer-Herald, the island was terrorized in the 1980’s by serial killer Angel Colón Maldonado, called “The Angel of the Bachelors,” for slaying 27 gay men before his capture.  Maldonado is serving life in prison.  These crimes notwithstanding, Puerto Rico also has shown itself to be more inclusive and welcoming of LGBT people than some other Caribbean islands, like Jamaica, where queer folk are still deeply closeted.  Serrano announced a protest at the Capitol in San Juan on Thursday.  Rallies and memorial gatherings are planned on the mainland in Dallas, Chicago and New York this weekend.

November 19, 2009 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Blame the victim, Decapitation and dismemberment, gay men, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, immolation, Latino and Latina Americans, Law and Order, Legislation, Matthew Shepard Act, Media Issues, multiple homicide, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Protests and Demonstrations, Puerto Rico, Remembrances, Social Justice Advocacy, stabbings, Torture and Mutilation, trans-panic defense, transgender persons, transphobia, U.S. House of Representatives | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Demands for Justice in Slaying of Gay Teen in Puerto Rico

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

Senate Acts on Matthew Shepard Act: Bill Goes to Obama’s Desk

We the PeopleWashington, DC – In a historic vote Thursday, the United States Senate voted 68-29 to approve the Matthew Shepard Act, broadening federal protection from hate crimes to LGBT people.  The Shepard Act, which had already passed in the United States House of Representatives two weeks ago by a similarly wide margin, was approved by the upper house as a part of a mammoth Defense Appropriations Bill.  President Obama has repeatedly signaled that he favored extending hate crimes protections to LGBT people, and is expected to sign the bill as early as next week.  Senator Patrick Leahy, (D) Vermont, a sponsor of the bill, said to the New York Times “Hate crimes instill fear in those who have no connection to the victim other than a shared characteristic such as race or sexual orientation.  For nearly 150 years, we have responded as a nation to deter and to punish violent denials of civil rights by enacting federal laws to protect the civil rights of all of our citizens.”  Leahy also noted how appropriate a tribute the passage of the Shepard Act is to the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who championed the cause of equality for LGBT Americans for many years.  Ten Republicans voted with the Democratic majority for the passage of this historic legislation.  The lone Democratic Senator to vote against passage was Russ Feingold, (D) Wisconsin, who favored the Shepard Act, but opposed the increased funding of the military action in Afghanistan.  The Shepard Act commits $5 million annually to the Justice Department to assist local communities in investigating hate crimes, and it allows the agency to assist in investigations and prosecutions if local agencies request help.  It also permits the Justice Department to carry out hate crimes investigations in localities where law enforcement neglects or stymies such action for prejudicial reasons.  Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, the 21-year-old University of Wyoming student for whom the Act was named, has been a tireless advocate for the passage of hate crimes protections for LGBT people since Matthew was slain by two young men in Laramie in 1998. Speaking to the press, she said, “Dennis and I are extremely proud of the Senate for once again passing this historic measure of protection for victims of these brutal crimes. Knowing that the president will sign it, unlike his predecessor, has made all the hard work this year to pass it worthwhile. Hate crimes continue to affect far too many Americans who are simply trying to live their lives honestly, and they need to know that their government will protect them from violence, and provide appropriate justice for victims and their families.”  All eyes now turn to President Obama for his signature that will enact the Matthew Shepard Act into law, the most significant lift to the LGBT community in the United States in forty years.

October 23, 2009 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Hate Crimes, Law and Order, Matthew Shepard Act, Politics, Social Justice Advocacy, U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C., Wyoming | , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Senate Acts on Matthew Shepard Act: Bill Goes to Obama’s Desk

U.S. House Approves Matthew Shepard Act

HATECRIMES_REPX390Washington, DC – In a vote that marks the first major expansion of protection under the law in 40 years, the House of Representatives voted to approve the Matthew Shepard Act on Thursday.  The Shepard Act, attached as an amendment to a Defense Appropriations Bill, extends protection to LGBT people from bias-related physical violence.  A similar provision faced the threat of a veto from President Bush in a recent Congress, even though it passed the House by a comfortable majority.  This time around, President Obama has signaled his eagerness to sign the Shepard Amendment into law, as soon as it receives a favorable vote in the U.S. Senate.  That vote is expect soon.  Protections from hate violence for LGBT Americans have been opposed by congressional Republicans and their allies, usually on the pretext that the addition of the Shepard Act to a defense bill is inappropriate “social engineering,” a “poison pill,” and that the provisions of the Act would serve as a sort of Trojan Horse, making LGBT behaviors “normative.”  Some religious critics have argued that the Shepard Act would gag ministers and priests who oppose homosexuality on moral or doctrinal grounds, abrogating their First Amendment right to freedom of speech and to the free exercise of religion, making vocal opposition to LGBT behaviors criminal.  Proponents of the legislation counter that the language of the Shepard Act has been carefully crafted to criminalize only acts of physical violence, leaving all First Amendment rights fully intact.  The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and openly gay Congressman Jared Polis (D-Colorado) hailed the passage of the Act in the House.  Pelosi said, “It’s a very exciting day for us here in the Capitol,” noting that attempts to pass such a law had gone on for her 22-year tenure in the House of Representatives.  Polis argued that critics of the Shepard Act seem not to understand the impact of anti-LGBT hate violence beyond the individual victims. “What makes these crimes so bad is they are not just crimes against individuals; they are crimes against entire communities,” he said during the debate on the defense bill.  The measure passed the House by a vote of 281 to 146.  237 Democrats and 44 Republicans voted in the affirmative. 131 Republicans and 15 Democrats opposed the bill. “We are closer than ever before to protecting Americans from hate violence thanks to today’s action by the House,” said Joe Solmonese, head of the Washington, D.C.-based LGBT advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign. “The day is within sight when lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will benefit from updating our nation’s hate crimes laws.”

October 9, 2009 Posted by | California, Colorado, Hate Crimes, Law and Order, Legislation, Matthew Shepard Act, Politics, religious intolerance, Social Justice Advocacy, U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on U.S. House Approves Matthew Shepard Act

   

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