VICTORY: Hate Crimes Bill Passes; First Federal Bill to Protect Transgender People
Washington DC- In an historic move, the United States Senate joined the House of Representatives in passing The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which will be the first federal law to include gender identity and transgender people. Once signed by the President, this law will add sexual orientation, gender identity, gender and disability to the categories included in existing federal hate crimes law and will allow local governments who are unable or unwilling to address hate crimes to receive assistance from the federal government. President Obama has indicated that he will sign the bill into law.
"Transgender people have been waiting so many years for assistance from the federal government in addressing the rampant and disproportional violence that we face," noted Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. "Today we move one step closer to our goal of ending violence motivated by hatred. Everyone in America deserves to live free of fear and of violence. We know that the dedicated leadership and hard work of Senator Kennedy and Representative Conyers and many other legislators made the passage of this bill possible. Words can't really express our gratitude for their commitment to equality for all people."
In the past, federal law has only mentioned gender identity in a negative context, such as explicitly excluding transgender people from the Americans with Disabilities Act. The passage of the hate crimes bill marks a significant turning pointfrom the days in which the federal government contributed to the oppression of transgender people to today when federal law takes action to protect our lives.
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act will have a number of positive impacts. First, it will help educate law enforcement about the frequent hate violence against transgender people and the need to prevent and appropriately address it. Second, it will help provide federal expertise and resources when it is needed to overcome a lack of resources or the willful inaction on the part of local and/or state law enforcement. Third, it will help educate the public that violence against anyone is unacceptable and illegal.
Transgender people continue to be disproportionately targeted for bias motivated violence. Thirteen states and Washington, DC have laws which include transgender people in state hate crimes laws.