In a campaign promise fulfilled, President Obama signed the first significant pro-lesbian, pro-woman, pro-disability rights legislation today. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act expands the 1969 federal hate crimes law to include sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability.
“This is a true victory, especially for women,” said NOW President Terry O’Neill. “NOW’s activists have worked tirelessly for years to have gender-based and sexual orientation-based hate crimes included in federal law — hate crimes that warrant federal prosecution and federal punishment,” said O’Neill.
Federal authorities will now have the power to pursue hate crimes when individuals are targeted for sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability — authority the federal government never had before.
This legislation is especially important for the girls and women of this nation because it extends existing federal hate crimes laws beyond the narrow scope of protected federal activities and also includes — for the first time — violent crimes committed on the basis of actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, disability and gender identity. Women know first hand how vicious crimes of sexual and hate-filled violence can affect our lives, especially if local law enforcement is ill-equipped to investigate and prosecute these crimes. We know that hate crimes are more than individual assaults — they send shock waves and fear throughout a whole community. Girls’ and women’s lives are restricted and often ruined by the fear as well as the reality of vicious hate crimes, be they based on our religion, race, gender identity or just because we are women.
“The Matthew Shepard Act is a significant victory for all of us,” said O’Neill. “I am thrilled that the dedication and hard work of our activists around the country have paid off.”