By Darius Kemp
In early May, the United States House of Representatives passed the Matthew Shephard legislation, by a margin of 75 votes, that would include sexual orientation into current hate crime laws on the federal level. A growing chorus of individuals has begun to hate the legislation instead of hating the horrible crimes of intolerance that people commit.
The bill now moves over to the Senate for serious consideration. However, the passage of the bill in the House has fueled the disturbing rhetoric of opponents to the bill, and in turn this has worried its supporters. Over the past few weeks the recriminations have begun on both sides.
World Net Daily (WND), a conservative reporting organization, refers to the amendment as the “Pedophile Protection Act” and argues that this amendment will criminalize the acts of people that speak out against or protect themselves from pedophiles, flashers or other “deviants.” They have mischaracterized the medical definition of sexual orientation and have included sexual acts, such as incest, into the law when the legislation does not mention anything of the sort.
So what is the truth? Senate bill 909, which includes the Matthew Shephard hate crime legislation, will incorporate “crimes manifesting prejudice based on gender and gender identity” into current hate crime laws. It will also give more resources to local and state governments that want to investigate hate crimes against LGBT people. Moreover, it also allows for the federal government to step in and prosecute hate crimes if the local government refuses to do so.
Many hate crimes committed against the LGBT community are under-reported and under-investigated by local jurisdictions because of a lack of funds or even personal bias by the prosecution and police. This law will allow for LGBT people to have the same protections as other minority groups in America. The website “No Dumb Questions” shows the struggle that many transgender people face and also support that is available.
Angie Zapata, a transgendered woman from Colorado was brutally murdered in 2008 and her killer was convicted of her murder with a state hate crime enhancement. It was the first successful prosecution using the hate crime enhancement for transgendered people. This only happened because Colorado included gender and sexual orientation into their hate crime laws. But what about the LGBT people in the 19 states that do not include them into hate crime law?
Hate crimes do not just destroy the life of the victim; they use it to terrorize a community. In the 19th and 20th centuries the Ku Klux Klan would hang a Black man in the center of the Black community to send a message, and in today’s world people use hate crimes to scare minority groups into silence.
NIOT encourages more people to speak up in their communities and join together so that the lives and lessons of Angie Zapata, Matthew Shephard, Gwen Araujo, Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder are remembered as we strive to build accepting communities.