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Obama Signs the Hate Crime Bill into Law! What’s next?

11:41 am in Uncategorized by PaulLeGendreHRF

Ten years ago this month, Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard was brutally attacked and murdered because he was gay. A year before Matthew’s murder, James Byrd. Jr. was kidnapped, beaten, and stripped naked by three white supremacists, who chained him by the ankles to a pickup truck and dragged his body for three miles. These tragedies reawakened American consciousness about hate crime and sparked debate far beyond U.S. borders.

Today, President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act, critical legislation that strengthens existing U.S. laws by extending federal hate crime protection in cases where the victim was targeted because of their sexual orientation, gender, disability, or gender identity. The new law–which the U.S. Attorney General Holder called a “civil rights issue that is clearly a priority”–will also permit federal authorities to assist local governments in hate crime investigations and increase their capacity through training programs.

This much-needed step to enhance the government’s response to hate crime at home will play an important role in enhancing US leadership on combating hate violence globally. This is already happening.

Secretary of State Clinton recently underlined the importance of combating hate crime, at the launch of the State Department’s 2009 Report on International Religious Freedom by proclaiming that the best antidote to religious intolerance is “a combination of robust legal protections against discrimination and hate crimes, proactive government outreach to minority religious groups, and the vigorous defense of both freedom of religion and expression.”

Together, President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and other members of the Administration must be prepared to carry and promote this message overseas, in countries where governments are not responding adequately to violence motivated by religious intolerance, racism and xenophobia, sexual orientation and gender identity bias, or other similar manifestations of intolerance. In many parts of the world, governments are failing to take hate violence seriously by bringing the perpetrators to justice.

As the United States begins the work of enacting this important new bill, Human Rights First is encouraging the government to also demonstrate continued international leadership in multilateral organizations, advocate measures to combat hate crime in bilateral relationships, and expand efforts to support civil society organizations, by taking the following steps:

-Raising violent hate crime issues with representatives of foreign governments and encouraging, where appropriate, legal and other policy responses, including those contained in Human Rights First’s ten-point plan for governments to combat violent hate crime. Talking Helps!

-Offer appropriate technical assistance and other forms of cooperation, including training of police and prosecutors in investigating, recording, reporting and prosecuting violent hate crimes as well as translation of Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) materials on hate crimes. Peer tutoring works!

-Ensuring that groups working to combat all forms of violent hate crime have access to support under existing U.S. funding programs, including the Human Rights and Democracy Fund and programs for human rights defenders. Money is needed!

-Maintain strong and inclusive State Department monitoring and public reporting on racist, antisemitic, xenophobic, anti-Muslim, homophobic, anti-Roma and other bias-motivated violence–including by consulting with civil society groups as well as providing appropriate training for human rights officers and other relevant mission staff abroad. Reporting matters!

Today is a day to welcome the President’s signing the Hate Crime Prevention Act into law and to congratulate all those who worked for more than a decade to make this happen. It is also an important moment to recall the global nature of hate violence. While not losing sight of the challenges at home, we call on the U.S. to enhance its global leadership role by working to ensure that hate violence is met with a vigorous response everywhere.

Ted Kennedy: Fearless Leader in the Fight against Hate Crime

3:20 pm in Uncategorized by PaulLeGendreHRF

Senator Kennedy’s prolific career spanned nearly five decades, during which he authored more than 2,500 bills in the U.S. Senate. Several hundred have become public law. This fall we hope to add yet another bill to that distinguished list – the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Ted Kennedy was one of the Senate’s earliest champions in the fight against hate crime. Since the early 1990s, Senator Kennedy has called for better government response to the growing problem of violence motivated by racism, religious intolerance, sexual orientation bias or other similar factors. For example, in one of his most courageous political moments, Senator Kennedy argued in favor of legislation protecting those who face violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. He spoke out after realizing that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons, as well as those who seek to protect their rights, have been threatened by a particularly aggressive wave of bias-motivated violence.

Senator Kennedy later went to on to compare hate crimes to "acts of domestic terrorism" and worked tirelessly to pass hate crimes legislation in the Senate. In 2007, he joined Sen. Gordon Smith in a bipartisan effort to pass the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The bill failed to advance in the Senate Judiciary Committee, but that not deter Senator Kennedy. He continued to fight, and just this year, the Senate adopted this critical measure as part of the Defense Authorization Bill.

Human Rights First is one of many U.S. rights groups supporting the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act as it will help to ensure that law enforcement authorities have the tools they need to combat violent hate crime in the United States. This bill could prove to be one of the nation’s strongest weapons to date to protect those who are most vulnerable to bias-motivated violence. These crimes — including assaults on individuals, damage to homes and personal property, and attacks on places of worship, cemeteries, community centers, and schools — undermine our shared values of equality and nondiscrimination, ideals that Senator Kennedy worked his whole life to promote.

Senator Ted Kennedy was a longtime friend of the human rights movement and a powerful supporter of social justice and democracy at home and throughout the world. He had a keen understanding of the courage and tenacity it takes to overcome adversity and to find the way forward when the odds seem insurmountable. This fall, we sincerely hope that President Obama will follow in his footsteps by signing the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law.

Watch Human Rights First’s Tribute to Edward Moore Kennedy.

Paul LeGendre is the Director of the Fighting Discrimination program at Human Rights First. Join them at and

Will Matthew Shepard Rest In Peace?

4:06 pm in Uncategorized by PaulLeGendreHRF

In 1998, the murder of Matthew Shepard sent shock waves through the nation. A 21-year-old gay student at the University of Wyoming, Shepard was brutally beaten, tortured, tied to a fence, and left for dead. Eighteen hours later, a bicyclist found Matthew, initially thinking he was a scarecrow. He was rushed to the hospital and died five days later.

Now, more than a decade later, the U.S. Senate is set to vote on a bill that would give the government additional tools to combat and prevent such heinous acts. This critical legislation, which has already passed in the House of Representatives in a bipartisan vote of 249-175, is aptly named the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act (S. 909). If passed into law, it could prove to be one of the nation’s strongest weapons to date to protect those who are most vulnerable to bias-motivated violence.

Though it is widely believed and acknowledged that Matthew Shepard was targeted precisely because of his sexual orientation, his killers were not charged with a hate crime. There wasn’t then and still isn’t a state hate crime law in Wyoming, and the current federal civil rights law that the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Read the rest of this entry →