In July, I asked you to urge my congressional colleagues to pass the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, to tackle the scourge of hate crime in America. Thanks to you and the efforts of more than 10,000 LeahyForVermont.com activists, this long-overdue anti-hate crime legislation is finally law.
Hate crimes are an unacceptable reality in America. A hate crime occurs somewhere in America every hour, and sadly the number of hate groups has grown dramatically in recent years. Many of these crimes are directed toward gay and transgender Americans, who were previously unprotected by any federal anti-hate crime statute.
That's why I introduced the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act to strengthen federal anti-hate crime laws to cover crimes motivated by gender, disability status, or sexual orientation.
Last week the Senate passed it as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act, and I was proud to visit the White House to witness President Obama signing it into law earlier today.
Our community of activists has once again helped to affirm the principle of equality and secure the rights of all Americans to live free from fear. Working together, we have enacted what Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese has called "the first major piece of civil rights legislation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people."
The Matthew Shepard Hate Crime Prevention Act bears the name of a gay college student from Wyoming who was brutally tortured and murdered by two attackers in 1998. Its passage also honors the memory of Senator Ted Kennedy, who fought tirelessly for more than a decade to expand federal anti-hate crime protections to include such crimes.
This historic anti-hate crime law will:
- Allow federal authorities to more easily investigate and prosecute crimes motivated by race, color, or beliefs;
- Update the law to include crimes motivated by disability status, gender, or sexual orientation; and
- Strengthen federal support for state and local law enforcement agencies in the investigation and prosecution of hate-motivated violence.
I cannot thank you enough for coming together to show that violence against members of any group because of who they are will not be tolerated in our great country.