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What the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act and how will it help gays and lesbians?

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Question: What the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act and how will it help gays and lesbians?
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed through Congress on October 22, 2009 as part of a defense department bill. The current hate crimes law defines a "hate crime" as one motivated by religion, race, national origin or color. The new hate crimes act expands the federal definition of hate crimes to include assaults based on sexual orientation, gender, disability or gender identity.
Answer: I spoke with Sarah Scanlon, Regional Field Director for the Human Rights Campaign about Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes bill before congress. A hate crimes bill has nothing to do with sentencing crimes, but has to do with funding.

The hate crimes bill which is also known as the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act or the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act will make federal funds from the Justice Department available to local law enforcement organizations to aid in investigating crimes against gays, lesbians and trans people. The language of the bill gives the Justice Department power to investigate a crime if the perpetrator is motivated by a person's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

Are Hate Crimes Really a Problem?

Yes. From HRC's website: "According to 2006 FBI statistics, hate crimes based on sexual orientation constituted the third highest category reported and made up 15.5 percent of all reported hate crimes. Only race-based and religion-based prejudice crimes were more prevalent than hate crimes based on sexual orientation."

What the Hate Crimes Bill Is:

  • Current federal hate crime law, passed by Congress is 1968, allows federal investigation and prosecution of hate crimes based on race, religion, and national origin.
  • Makes money and resources available for local communities when a hate crime has been committed.
  • Allows federal authorities to assist in investigations if needed.
  • It also makes grants available to state and local communities to combat violent crimes committed by juveniles, train law enforcement officers, or to assist in state and local investigations and prosecutions of bias motivated crimes.

What the Hate Crimes Bill is Not:

  • It is not about increasing jail time or sentencing for perpetrators.
  • Does not give funding to prevent hate crimes.

Matthew Shepard and Hate Crimes Bill

Ms. Scanlon said that when Matthew Shepard was murdered in Wyoming, because that crime took so much time and money to investigate and prosecute, four local officers were furloughed.

Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard, who worked hard to pass the bill released the following statement:
"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."

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