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Federal Hate Crimes Bill Passes Senate, Awaits Presidents Signature

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On October 22, the United States Senate approved federal protection of victims of hate crimes perpetrated against LGBT persons. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, attached earlier this year to the annual Defense Department spending bill, ensures justice for the victims of hate crimes targeted for violence due to their sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.

Under the legislation, federal prosecutors could step in to try violent hate-crime cases if local authorities cannot or will not secure an appropriate conviction. It also opens up federal funding for law enforcement to handle the typically high cost of investigation and judicial proceedings in such cases, and would make grants available for training and prevention.

“This vote firmly places the federal government on the side of LGBT Americans and sends a clear message that homophobia and transphobia are unacceptable,” said Winnie Stachelberg, senior vice president for external affairs at Center for American Progress and former political director of the Human Rights Campaign. “The bill urges police to take into account the homophobia and transphobia that undergird too many crimes, while giving law enforcement agencies around the country the tools they have asked for to effectively fight these crimes.”

The bill is named for Matthew Shepard, a gay college student slain in Casper, Wyoming, in 1998 and James Byrd, an African-American resident of Jasper, Texas, who was dragged to death in 1998 by white supremacists.

The legislation now goes to President Barack Obama’s desk for signing, which the president has pledged to do. – by Nancy Ford

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