Hate Crimes Timeline
There were challenges and victories - both big and small - along the way. Here’s a look back at some of the bigger developments in the fight for passage of federal hate crimes legislation.
February 22, 1989 | 101st Congress - The Hate Crimes Statistics Act is reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. It was also introduced in the 99th and 100th congresses. It would require the Department of Justice to collect and publish data about crimes motivated by hatred based on race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation.
June 27, 1989 | House passes the Hate Crimes Statistics Act by a 368-47 vote.
February 8, 1990 | The U.S. Senate passes the Hate Crimes Statistics Act by a 92-4 vote.
April 23, 1990 | President George H.W. Bush signs the bill into law.
March 1, 1993 | 103rd Congress - The Hate Crimes Sentencing Enhancement Act is reintroduced in the House (it was also introduced in the 102nd Congress). It would allow judges to impose harsher penalties for hate crimes, including hate crimes based on gender, disability and sexual orientation that occur in national parks and on other federal property.
September 21, 1993 | House passes the Hate Crimes Sentencing Enhancement Act by a voice vote.
October 6, 1993 | The Hate Crimes Sentencing Enhancement Act is introduced in the Senate.
November 4, 1993 | The Hate Crimes Sentencing Enhancement Act is added as an amendment to the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. It is later enacted.
June 7, 1997 | "Such hate crimes, committed solely because the victims have a different skin color or a different faith or are gays or lesbians, leave deep scars not only on the victims but on our larger community. They are acts of violence against America itself." – President Bill Clinton in his weekly radio address
June 7, 1997 | President Clinton devotes his weekly radio address to hate crimes, specifically citing bias crimes against LGBT people. He asks Attorney General Janet Reno to review the laws concerning hate crimes and help the federal government develop a plan of action.
November 10, 1997 | HRC Executive Director Elizabeth Birch participates in a White House hate crimes summit convened by Clinton. HRC asks the White House to focus also on how law enforcement officials are trained to investigate and prosecute bias crimes. Before the summit concludes, Clinton unveils a package of initiatives that includes expanding federal hate crimes laws to encompass crimes aimed at people because they are gay or disabled, or because of their sex.
November 13, 1997 | 105th Congress - The Hate Crimes Prevention Act is introduced in the House and the Senate. The bill would extend the protection of the current federal hate crimes law to include those who are victimized because of their sexual orientation, gender or disability. It would also strengthen current law regarding hate crimes based on race, religion and national origin.
June 7, 1998 | James Byrd Jr., 49, of Jasper, Texas, accepts a ride from three white men. Instead of taking him home, the three men beat Byrd behind a convenience store, strip him naked, chain him by the ankles to their pickup truck and dragged him for three miles over rural roads outside Jasper. Forensic evidence suggests that Byrd had been attempting to keep his head up while being dragged, and an autopsy suggests that Byrd was alive during much of the dragging. Byrd dies after his right arm and head are severed after his body hit a culvert. His body had caught a sewage drain on the side of the road, resulting in his decapitation.
Officials quickly determined that the murderers were members of white supremacist groups, wore body tattoos from Aryan Pride, Nazi symbols and gang symbols of their affiliation with well known racist gangs. It was then documented as a hate crime.
October 6-7, 1998 | Matthew Shepard, 21, of Laramie, Wyo., meets two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, at a bar, and they drive him to a remote area east of Laramie, where they tie him to a split-rail fence, beat him and leave him to die in the cold of the night. Almost 18 hours later, he is found by a cyclist, who initially mistakes him for a scarecrow.
October 12, 1998 | Matthew Shepard dies at a hospital in Fort Collins, Colo.
October 1998 | Vigils are held across the country following the death of Matthew Shepard. One of the largest such vigils takes place on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and was organized by HRC, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
November 1998 | A bipartisan poll conducted for HRC finds that 56 percent of Americans support the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
May 1999 | I know this measure is not a cure-all, and it won't stop all hate violence. But it will send the message that this senseless violence is unacceptable and un-American. My son Matthew was the victim of a brutal hate crime, and I believe this legislation is necessary to make sure no family again has to suffer like mine." – Judy Shepard, speaking before a U.S. Senate panel to urge the passage of federal hate crimes legislation
January 1999 | President Clinton mentions the passage of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act among his priorities in his State of the Union address.
February 1999 | A Gallup poll indicates that 75 percent of Americans believe that "homosexuals" should be covered by hate crimes laws.
March 1999 | 106th Congress - The Hate Crimes Prevention Act is reintroduced in the House and the Senate.
April 5, 1999 | Russell Henderson pleads guilty to the murder of Matthew Shepard and agrees to testify against Aaron McKinney. In exchange for his testimony, Henderson receives two consecutive life sentences with no chance for parole.
May 1999 | Judy Shepard speaks before a U.S. Senate panel to urge the passage of hate crimes legislation.
July 22, 1999 | The Senate passes the Hate Crimes Prevention Act after it is incorporated as an amendment to the Commerce, Justice and State appropriations bill.
October 1999 | HRC begins airing public service announcements featuring Judy and Dennis Shepard and aimed at curbing anti-LGBT violence and promoting a greater understanding of LGBT issues.
October 1999 | HRC National Dinner honors the memory of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. The Shepard and Byrd families attend as special guests.
October 25, 1999 | Trial of Aaron McKinney begins. Defense lawyers plan to argue that McKinney snapped when Shepard supposedly made a pass at him at a bar, triggering memories of a childhood sexual assault. The judge rejects the so-called "gay panic" defense.
November 4, 1999 | Aaron McKinney is found guilty in the murder of Matthew Shepard. In a deal that is approved by the Shepard family, McKinney avoids the death penalty and is sentenced to two consecutive life sentences with no chance for parole.
April 29, 2000 | Celebrities and 45,000 people gather at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., for HRC's Equality Rocks concert. One of the most powerful moments comes when HRC Executive Director Elizabeth Birch introduces Dennis and Judy Shepard and several other families who have been affected by hate crimes. They include Louvon Harris and Darrell Varrett, the sister and nephew of James Byrd Jr.; Chuck and Eleanor Kadish, parents of Ben Kadish, a young boy seriously injured when a man carried out a violent rampage of a Jewish day school in Los Angeles; and Ismael and Deena Illeto, the brother and sister-in-law of Joseph Illeto, a Filipino-American postal worker who died during that rampage.
October 2000 | HRC launches a radio ad campaign featuring Judy Shepard that asks then-presidential candidate George W. Bush, "Will you support including sexual orientation in federal hate crimes law?" HRC works with state and local groups in Texas to organize a rally in Austin, where local activists chanted and carried signs that read, "Answer Judy's Question."
January 2001 | MTV airs a movie about the murder of Matthew Shepard and shuts down programming for 17 hours to run a list of the names of hundreds of victims of hate crimes. More than 50,000 people send e-mails or signed petitions urging Congress and the Bush administration to support the hate crimes bill.
March 2001 | Judy Shepard joins the HRC Board of Directors.
Spring 2001 | 107th Congress - The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act is introduces in the House and the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act is introduced in the Senate. The legislation would provide federal assistance to states and local jurisdictions to prosecute hate crimes.
Fall/Winter 2001 | Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, scores of hate-related incidents are directed at Muslims and people who appear to be of Middle Eastern descent. HRC works with allies to address these incidents and respond to the targeted communities. President Bush and federal law enforcement authorities speak out against these crimes and launch probes into more than 200 incidents across the country.
April/May 2003 | 108th Congress - The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act is reintroduced in the House and the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act is reintroduced in the Senate.
November 2004 | HRC counters ABC News’ inaccurate, sensationalized broadcast on "20/20" about Matthew Shepard's murder. In the program, which includes interviews with both men convicted of murdering Shepard, Aaron McKinney says his motivation for the murder was robbery, not hatred of gay people.
May 26, 2005 | 109th Congress - The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act is reintroduced in the House and the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act is reintroduced in the Senate.
"Matthew’s legacy is not about hate. Matthew’s legacy is about understanding, compassion, acceptance and love." – Judy Shepard, in an article she wrote for HRC's Equality magazine
2006 | Harris Interactive reports that 54 percent of LGBT people surveyed say they are concerned about being the victim of a hate crime.
Winter 2006 | Judy Shepard writes an article in HRC's Equality magazine reflecting on her son's legacy seven years after his death. "When I think about the last seven years, I feel a great sadness for the loss of Matt. But as I look to the future, I’m filled with hope," she writes. "Matthew’s legacy is not about hate. Matthew's legacy is about understanding, compassion, acceptance and love."
December 2006 | Judy Shepard joins the HRC Foundation Board.
2007 | A Gallup poll shows that 68 percent of Americans favor including sexual orientation and gender identity in federal hate crimes law. More than half of conservatives (57 percent) and Republicans (60 percent) back inclusive legislation. Support is strongest among self-identified liberals (82 percent), Democrats (75 percent), those affiliated with non-Christian religious faiths (74 percent) and Catholics (72 percent).
March/April 2007 | 110th Congress - The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act is introduced in the House, and the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act is introduced in the Senate.
Spring 2007 | HRC produces a two-minute video in support of the passage of the Matthew Shepard Act. It features the stories of LGBT people who been injured or killed by hate violence: Evan Kittredge, Fred Martinez and Matthew Shepard. Using images from photojournalist Lynn Johnson with Cyndi Lauper’s song "All Through the Night," the video is a poignant call for people to get involved in the fight to pass hate crimes legislation.
May 3, 2007 | The House passes the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act by a floor vote of 237-180.
June 2007 | The Williams Institute reports that on average, 13 out of 100,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual people report hate violence every year. The 13 compares to 8 for African-Americans, 12 for Muslim-Americans and 15 for Jewish-Americans.
July 2007 | HRC produces a video that confronts the lies from the right wing about hate crimes legislation.
Spring 2007 | Peter D. Hart Research Associates releases the results of a poll showing that support for protections against hate violence is strong - even across partisan and racial lines. The results show that three in four voters support including sexual orientation in federal hate crimes laws, including 85 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of Independents, 64 percent of Republicans, 74 percent of African-Americans, 74 percent of Latinos and 74 percent of Caucasians.
Summer 2007 | Judy Shepard is featured on the front cover of HRC’s Equality magazine. By this date, she has spoken to more than 1 million youths about the damaging effects of hate and the importance of embracing diversity.
September 27, 2007 | The Senate invokes cloture on the hate crimes legislation by a vote of 60-39. A voice vote adds the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act as an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization Act. It is the first time that a transgender-inclusive piece of legislation passes both chambers of Congress.
Fall 2007 | President Bush issues a veto threat for the Defense authorization bill if hate crimes legislation is attached, ending consideration of the hate crimes bill in the 110th Congress.
December 6, 2007 | The hate crimes amendment is stripped from the Defense Department authorization legislation.
Spring 2008 | Sen. Edward Kennedy speaks at HRC's spring board meeting and reaffirms his commitment to passing inclusive federal hate crimes legislation.
November 18, 2008 | President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team releases its vision of support for the civil rights and LGBT community in a straightforward and timely plan. It details a plan to expand hate crimes statutes.
April 2009 | 111th Congress - The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act is introduced in the House, and the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act is introduced in the Senate.
April 6, 2009 | HRC launches http://www.fighthatenow.org/ to counter lies and distortions about federal hate crimes legislation. It provides supporters with the tools to directly contact their members of Congress to urge them to support the legislation.
April 21, 2009 | HRC releases a new video in conjunction with the campaign to pass federal hate crimes legislation. The video, "10 Years," features Judy Shepard. HRC also announces the #FightHateNow hashtag for Twitter users to contribute to and stay current on the status of the federal hate crimes bill.
April 27-29, 2009 | HRC holds a national call-in campaign for supporters to call their congressional representatives to urge quick passage of hate crimes legislation, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009.
April 29, 2009 | The House passes the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act by a floor vote of 249-175.
May 20, 2009 | President Obama meets with Judy Shepard and reiterates his commitment to ensuring that the Senate finalize the hate crimes bill.
July 16, 2009 | Senate cloture motion on the hate crimes bill passes by a 63-28 vote. The bill is added to the Defense Department Authorization bill.
July 23, 2009 | The Senate passes the Defense Department Authorization bill, on which the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act is attached as an amendment. The bill goes to a conference committee to work out differences between the House and Senate versions of the legislation.
October 6, 2009 | The House fails to pass a motion, by a 178-234 vote, to instruct conferees to strip the hate crimes provision (now titled "Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act") from the Defense Dept. authorization bill conference report.
October 8, 2009 | The House passes the conference report by a 281-146 vote.
October 10, 2009 | President Obama reiterates his support for hate crimes legislation at the 13th annual HRC National Dinner. Dennis and Judy Shepard are honored with the first annual Edward M. Kennedy National Leadership Award. Watch the video on the HRC blog.
October 22, 2009 | October 22, 2009 - The Senate votes 68-29 to pass the Defense Department authorization bill that includes a provision for inclusive federal hate crimes legislation. HRC launches Love Conquers Hate to celebrate the victory.
October 28, 2009 | President Barack Obama signs the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law (as a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act). Before signing the legislation, President Obama says, "I promised Judy Shepard when I saw her in the Oval Office that this day would come, and I'm glad that she and her husband Dennis could join us for this event." View photos and video of the bill signing.