HRC Blog

HRC Recognizes One Year Since Passage of Hate Crimes Prevention Act

One year ago today, President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA). The act, the first federal law to provide protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, was passed after tireless advocacy from a broad coalition of organizations and most importantly, the selfless efforts of Judy and Dennis Shepard. HCPA was not able to address the tragic death of college student Matthew Shepard, but while honoring his memory, recourse is given to the families who have been touched by hate crimes.

The HCPA gives the Department of Justice authority to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violence where a victim is selected because of the victim’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.  In addition, it provides DOJ with the ability to aid state and local jurisdictions with investigations and prosecutions of bias-motivated crimes of violence. Today, the Department of Justice and FBI are actively engaged in educating local law enforcement officers, investigating potential hate crimes against LGBT people, and are working towards prosecution for offenders.  A drastically different tone has been set regarding what will, now, not be tolerated. As we celebrate this major milestone, we should not however forget how far we still need to go. HCPA does not cover all hate crimes. State legislatures must step up to cover more incidents of hate. Only 12 states and the District of Columbia have hate crimes laws on the books that cover sexual orientation and gender identity. State laws continue to be critical in order to address crimes without a federal link and property crimes. Does your state provide protection?

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