October 25, 2009

Speaking Their Voices: The American People

On October 22, 2009, the Senate passed legislation that would federally prosecute for hate crimes based on an individual's gender or sexual identity.  The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed by a 68-29 vote.

According the the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) website, the hate crimes initiative was included in the Fiscal Year 2010 Department of Defense Authorization Report passed previously by the House of Representatives. The historic enactment of hate crimes legislation represents a vital victory for social justice advocates and all Americans who affirm that inequality and intolerance corrupt Democratic principles and ideals.

Consistently, many Americans are victims of violent crimes due to their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act will realign significant federal resources to aide local law enforcement efforts in the fight against hate crimes, racism and intolerance against those who exercise their right to alternative lifestyles. Further, the bill acknowledges that gender identity must be protected under federal law. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is our nation's sincerest attempt statutorily at protecting the civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

In addition, CNN online article Hate Crimes Bill Goes to Obama for Signature reports that former President Bush vetoed such legislation during his presidency, but President Obama has pledged to sign this bill into law.  Attorney General Eric Holder told CNN that "Thursday's 68-29 Senate vote to approve the defense spending bill that included the hate crimes measure... a milestone in helping protect Americans from the most heinous bias-motivated violence.  The passage of this legislation will give the Justice Department and our state and local law enforcement partners the tools we need to deter and prosecute these acts of violence."
In addition, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, reported to CNN that this is "our nation's first major piece of civil rights legislation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people... Too many in our community have been devastated by hate violence, [w]e now can begin the important steps to erasing hate in our country."

What change do you want to make?
How do you envision a hate-free future?
What are your next steps?
How will you use your voice?

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