Thursday, July 16, 2009

Action Alert: Keep Calling Your Senators

Since yesterday morning's action alert on the Matt Shepard Hate Crimes Act, the wheels have been turning in the Senate. The bill has now been added by Senator Patrick Leahy (D Vermont) as the Leahy/Collins/Kennedy/Snowe amendment to the FY 2010 Department of Defense Authorization bill. It is important to note that the wording of this amendment is exactly the same as the original bill. It now looks as though a vote will be taken either tomorrow, Thursday July 16, or on Monday, July 20.

Because of that, it is important that we keep the pressure up. Please call your senators and urge them to support the Leahy/Collins/Kennedy/Snowe hate crimes amendment, and ask your constituents, friends, family and colleagues to do the same. The toll free number you can use to call your senators (866-659-9641) will remain open tomorrow.

Learn more about the act by downloading CenterLink Hate Crimes Factsheet - Senate 2009-07.

What is the Matthew Shepard Act?

The Matthew Shepard Act (officially the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act or LLEHCPA) is a bill that, if passed, would expand the 1969 and 1994 federal hate-crime laws to include crimes motivated by the victim's perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity. The act is named for Matthew Shepard, the 21 year old college student who was tortured and murdered in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998 because of his homosexuality, one of the many victims of crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the United States each year.

If passed, what would the Matthew Shepard Act actually do?

On the most basic level, it would allow the federal government to prosecute those who commit hate crimes, and would increase the penalties received by the culprits. It will also lift the prerequisite that the federal government cannot intervene unless the victim had been involved in a federally protected activity (such as voting) when the crime occurred. If passed, the Matthew Shepard Act will also allocate more funds to investigate hate crimes, and require the FBI to track statistics on hate crimes committed against transgender people (hate crimes based on sexual orientation are already being tracked).

Is the Matthew Shepard Act really necessary?

Yes. Hate crimes differ from "normal" crimes in that they do not just cause harm to an individual and his or her circle of family and friends, but also to an entire community. When passed, the Matthew Shepard Act will lead to harsher punishment to those who commit hate crimes against members (or perceived members) of the LGBT community and in doing so will send the message that any form of violence committed against an individual because of that person's (perceived) sexual orientation or gender identity is an attack on the LGBT community as a whole, and unacceptable to society. This is major progress in the fight against gay bashing, as well as the fight for gay rights in general: the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act sends a clear message that Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, do not hate to live in fear.

Will the Matthew Shepard Act restrict freedom of speech?

This argument is widely made against the act by Republicans in Congress. While violence in any shape or form, physical or emotional, is despicable and unacceptable, the Matthew Shepard Act is only concerned with physical violence. When passed, the Matthew Shepard Act will not lead to the prosecution of those who make violent statements (outrageous and wrong as they may be) against the LGBT community. Any statements being made that suggest that the Matthew Shepard Act would create a thought police, or would limit the freedom of speech or religion, are either misguided or intentionally false.

What can you do to help pass the Matthew Shepard Act?

On Wednesday, July 15, and Thursday, July 16, call your senators between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET, through the toll free number 866-659-9641 and strongly urge them to support the Matthew Shepard Act. Please also forward this message to your constituents, friends, and family, and ask them to do the same.