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Protecting LGBT Americans from Hate and Upholding our First Amendment: No Zero Sum Game

Nate Hennagin,
Washington Legislative Office
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April 6, 2009

New hate crimes legislation was introduced last Thursday night in the House that would extend critical protections to Americans based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. Additionally, the legislation strengthens existing protections on the basis of race, color, religion, and national origin. The new, bipartisan bill, introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), is a reintroduction of former legislation that was passed by both chambers of Congress in 2007, but ultimately failed to become law because of a veto threat from then-President Bush. This legislation, called the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, is already supported by President Obama who has pledged to sign it into law once it reaches his desk. A Senate version of the bill, previously sponsored by Senator Kennedy, is also expected to be introduced shortly. Momentum is behind this legislation!

The original bill, called the Matthew Shepard Act, was sparked by the brutal killing of a gay, 21-year-old University of Wyoming student in 1998 that shocked the conscience of our nation at the time. The ACLU is joined by hundreds of other religious, civil rights, and law enforcement organizations in support of this legislation because of its very strong First Amendment protections, as well as the power it gives to the Justice Department to investigate crimes in which the victim was selected specifically because of their actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

According to the FBI’s most recent statistics from 2007, 7,624 hate crime offenses were reported, with nearly 17 percent of those crimes being violent crimes motivated by a person’s presumed sexual orientation. This legislation is long overdue; however, the need for it has never been greater. Urge your Members of Congress to co-sponsor and support H.R. 1913, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, today.

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