Six years ago this week, President Obama signed Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA) into law. It is the first major piece of civil rights legislation protecting LGBT individuals. 

The law is named for James Byrd, Jr., and Matthew Shepard, two individuals who were brutally murdered in 1998. In June 1998, James Byrd, an African-American man, was beaten by a group of white supremacists, tied to the back of a pickup truck, and dragged three miles before dying. In October 1998, Matthew Shepard was brutally attacked in Laramie, Wyoming, tied to a fence, and left to die in the cold of the night. He died from his injuries six days later.  Even after these heinous acts, it still took eleven long years to sign the HCPA into law.

Passage of the HCPA was a significant step in addressing bias motivated violence against LGBT people. It sent an important message to our nation that the federal government would not tolerate violent crimes that target individuals because of who they are or who they love.  However, there is still much more work to do to protect citizens from bias-motivated crimes. 

Currently, 15 states do not have an LGBT-inclusive hate crime law. And five states (Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Wyoming) do not have any laws addressing the scourge of hate crimes.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most recent hate crimes statistics, violence against the LGBT community is second only to crimes committed against an individual because of race. This month, Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother and an HRC board member, called on all Americans to work to stop the horrific violence against the transgender community.

Along with Judy Shepard, HRC will continue to work to pass laws that protect LGBT individuals, like the Equality Act, and to ensure that no one is targeted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.


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