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Federal hate crimes bill dies in conference
Conference committee strips out provision; lack of votes blamed for removal

by Matt Comer . Q-Notes staff

While hate crimes against LGBT people are ignored by U.S. federal agencies, hate crimes legislation in the United Kingdom has enabled police departments to take more proactive prevention approaches like this poster campaign from the Kent Police Department.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Dec. 6, a House-Senate conference committee reviewing differing versions of hate crimes legislation opted to strip the Matthew Shepard Act out of the Senate’s National Defense Authorization Act.

The Matthew Shepard Act would have extended federal grants to local law enforcement agencies in order to more thoroughly investigate and prosecute domestic terror crimes that target individuals based on disability, sexual orientation, gender or gender-identity. Under existing hate crimes laws, such grants are routinely provided to local agencies for similar crimes which target victims based on race, color, national origin or religion.

According to reports from 365gay.com News, a division of Logo Television’s online operations, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland and House Democratic Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina told Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin that the defense authorization would fail if the Senate continued to insist on the hate crimes provision’s inclusion.

According to a press release from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the Matthew Shepard Act fell victim to House challenges from opponents of hate crimes, as well as concerns regarding the Iraq-related provisions of the defense authorization bill.

“Today’s decision is deeply disappointing, especially given the historic passage of hate crimes legislation through both houses of Congress this year. After more than ten years and several successful bipartisan votes, it is heartbreaking to fall short this close to the finish line,” said Joe Solmonese, HRC president. “However, we are not giving up on efforts to find another legislative vehicle, in the second half of this Congress, to move the Matthew Shepard Act forward.”

The House of Representatives passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1592) in May with a strong bipartisan vote of 237-180. The Senate approved the nearly identical Matthew Shepard Act (S. 1105) as an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization bill on a voice vote after a 60-39 cloture vote. President Bush had threatened to veto any bill including hate crimes provisions.

Jon Hoadley, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, said the Democratic leadership is “now burdened with a moral obligation to see their work completed.”

He continued, “If the National Defense Authorization Act is not the appropriate vehicle for passage, then we encourage the Democratic Leadership to work with our community to find the most expedient way to place this legislation on the President’s desk within this Congress.”
Jody Huckaby, executive director of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays said that state laws are “inadequate to respond to these crimes.”

He added, “Only 27 states and the District of Columbia have hate crimes laws inclusive of sexual orientation, and only five of those and D.C.’s are expressly transgender inclusive. We need an inclusive federal law that protects everybody, regardless of where they live and who they are.

“This isn’t the end of the fight for this basic and necessary legislation. We’ll double our efforts to send the message to Congress that our families deserve basic protections too.”

Judy and Dennis Shepard expressed dismay over Congress’ decision to kill the act named after their son, the victim of a dreadful gay bashing in 1998.

“Make no mistake; this is a small triumph of process over principle. We are dedicated to redoubling our efforts next year to achieve our vision of a hate-free America that truly includes everyone,” the couple said in statement released to media on Dec. 6. “This has never simply been about Matthew Shepard and our family, this legislation is a gift delayed but never forgotten for all America’s families.”

Matt Foreman, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director called on the Senate to “immediately advance a stand-alone version of hate crimes that matches the version passed by the House earlier this year and send it to the president’s desk.”

He added, “When the president vetoes the bill — as he has repeatedly promised to do — everyone will see just how subservient this administration is to America’s anti-gay industry. Force his hand, for goodness sake, rather than hiding us away.”

In his statement, Foreman also expressed anger over the continued cold-shoulder shown to the LGBT community.

“Sadly, little progress has been made in the 17 years since Congress passed the Hate Crimes Statistics Act because right-wing forces would rather see hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people ignored than have the words ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘gender identity’ appear alongside other protected classes in federal law,” the national leader wrote. “It’s appalling that this administration — which has never met a tough-on-crime bill it didn’t like — is so in bed with these forces.”

The Log Cabin Republicans criticized the Democratic-controlled Congress’ handling of the hate crimes provisions.

“This once again shows the fight for freedom and fairness requires the LGBT movement to engage lawmakers on both sides of the aisle,” said Log Cabin President Patrick Sammon. “Too many people thought Democratic control of Congress would be a magic bullet for the gay rights movement. This episode should be a wake-up call.

“Contrary to their rhetoric, Democrats have yet to demonstrate that gay rights issues are an important part of their agenda. How many gay rights measures have reached the President’s desk? The answer is zero.”

Presidential candidates Sens. Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are introductory co-sponsors of the Senate version of the legislation, as was Rep. Dennis Kucinich of the House version. Sens. John Edwards and Mike Gravel, along with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson have also taken positions supporting the legislation.

A 2007 poll conducted by Peter Hart Research associates found that three out of four Americans supported the expansion of federal hate crimes law to include crimes based on disability, sexual orientation, gender or gender-identity. Support cut across partisan, ethnic and religious lines. Seventy-four percent of African-Americans support the legislation along with 74 percent of whites and 72 percent of Latinas/os. Sixty-three percent of evangelical Christians support the legislation according to the poll, as do 56 percent of Republican men.

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