Sexual orientation will now be covered under America’s hate crime laws, as the U.S. House passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, recognized in the Senate as the Matthew Shepard Act, on April 29th.
Despite setbacks since the legislation was first introduced in 1997, including veto threats from George W. Bush, the law passed with a 249-175 vote. According to the Human Rights Campaign, over 100,000 hate crimes have been reported to the FBI since 1991, with around 15 percent based on sexual orientation.
“Hate crimes are a scourge on our communities and it’s time we give law enforcement the tools they need to combat this serious problem,” stated HRC President Joe Solmonese.
The law authorized the Department of Justice to prosecute and investigate bias-motivated crimes based on the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender and disability. It added “gender” and “gender identity” to the Hate Crimes Statistics Act and eliminated limitations on the existing law, which specified that a victim had to be doing a federally protected activity such as attending school, voting or serving on a jury at the time of the crime.
“No one should face violence simply because of who they are. This bill is a critical step to erasing the hate that has devastated far too many families,” said Judy Shepard, the Matthew Shepard Foundation’s executive director and mother of the gay Wyoming student who was tortured and murdered in 1998.