VICTORY: Hate Crimes Bill Signed into Law
First Federal Law to Protect Transgender People
(October 28, 2009, Washington, DC) President Obama has just signed into law the very first protections for transgender people in US history: The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
“This is a powerful day as the United States government, for the first time, stands up and declares that violence against transgender people is wrong and will not be tolerated in our country,” stated Mara Keisling, the Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “Every day transgender people live with the reality and the threat of personal violence, simply because of who they are. This must end and it must end now. The new law provides for some vital first steps in preventing these terrible crimes as well as addressing them when they occur. At NCTE, we are dedicating this day to all those who have been victims of hate-motivated violence as well as recommitting ourselves to ending the epidemic of hate that continues to damage our communities and our country.”
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act will have a number of positive impacts:
- It will help educate law enforcement about the frequent hate violence against transgender people and the need to prevent and appropriately address it;
- It will help provide federal expertise and resources when they are needed to overcome a lack of resources or the willful inaction on the part of local and/or state law enforcement;
- It will help educate the public that violence against anyone, including transgender people, is unacceptable and illegal.
Most importantly, this law marks a turning point for the federal government, by including positive protections for transgender people and taking seriously the need to address the discrimination that we face.
NCTE will be holding a conference call tonight to bring you up to date about what this new law will do for transgender people and how it fits into our larger goals of transgender equality. There will also be an opportunity to ask questions. We also invite you to light a candle tonight; we have held so many vigils for victims of violence. Tonight, let us light a candle as a sign of our commitment to ending violence and in honor of this new day in transgender history. Let us have a Vigil for Victory.
There is another absolutely critical bill in process in both the House and the Senate: the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which we hope will soon follow the Hate Crimes Act and become law. For that to happen, we all must be involved. ENDA would be an important way for transgender people to address the rampant discrimination so many face daily in the workplace. Tonight, we'll also give you updates about what is happening right now with ENDA, what is ahead in the coming weeks and what you can do to help secure job protections for transgender people.
The President signs the bill into law:
Listen to NPR's story about the Hate Crimes Bill, including NCTE's Mara Keisling:
View excerpts of the press conference after the Hate Crimes bill passed both houses of Congress with Senators Leahy, Levin and Specter:
Important Facts about The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act
Why is this bill necessary?
Every act of violence is tragic and harmful, but not all crime is motivated by hate. Hate crimes occur when the perpetrator chooses the victim because of who the victim is or appears to be. These crimes are typically more violent and brutal, often involving attempts to dehumanize and ridicule the attacked individual. The violent murders of individuals like Angie Zapata and Brandon Teena not only terrorize their friends and family, but the transgender community as a whole. Existing state laws vary greatly in the scope of what they cover and most do not include gender identity. .
What does this legislation do and what is its impact?
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act would:
- Extend existing federal protections to include "gender identity, sexual orientation, gender and disability,"
- Allow the Justice Department to assist in hate crime investigations at the local level when local law enforcement is unable or unwilling to fully address these crimes,
- Mandate that the FBI begin tracking hate crimes based on actual or perceived gender identity, sexual orientation, gender and disability,
- Remove limitations that narrowly define hate crimes to violence committed while a person is accessing a federally protected activity, such as voting.
What does this bill resolve?
This federal hate crimes legislation would add “gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability” to the protected class list. Additionally, it would remove the requirement that the attacked individual has to be attempting to carry out a federally protected activity, such as voting, in order to be covered. The act would also amend the Hate Crimes Statistics Act by adding gender and gender identity thereby requiring the Federal Bureau of Investigation record and document the frequency, location and type of hate-motivated violence against transgender people.
Would all transgender people be covered in this bill?
Lawyers experienced with writing and enforcing laws that protect transgender people have worked to ensure that the language in this bill that covers people of all gender expressions and identities. Crimes against people across the gender spectrum would be addressed by this bill.
Is the free speech of religious institutions still protected under this bill?
Absolutely. This bill is supported by a wide range religious groups, including the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church and many others. This legislation only applies when a person is physically attackedbecause of their actual or perceived identity. Anti-gay, anti-trans and other types of speech, writings, and beliefs would not be criminalized by the hate crimes law.
NCTE's work on federal hate crimes legislation:
Federal hate crimes legislation is one of NCTE’s top priorities. For several years, we have worked directly with congressional staff members who drafted the actual legislation. We continue to win the support of Congress members through activities such as our annual Transgender Lobby Day. NCTE provides training to local activists on how to best educate members of Congress on transgender issues, and we provide up-to-date information on legislative activities.
Who supports this legislation?
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is supported by 31 state Attorneys General and almost 300 national law enforcement, professional, education, civil rights, religious, and civic organizations including: National Sheriffs’ Association; International Association of Chiefs of Police; U.S. Conference of Mayors; Presbyterian Church; Episcopal Church; and the Parent’s Network on Disabilities.