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Gay, civil rights activists hail passage of Matthew Shepard hate crimes act

matthew Congress on Thursday passed a groundbreaking law making it a federal crime to harm someone on the basis of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act would give the U.S. Justice Department the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated crimes based on a victim's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

Here are quotes from prominent gay and civil rights leaders in the United States:

"Dennis and I are extremely proud of the Senate for once again passing this historic measure of protection for victims of these brutal crimes. Knowing that the president will sign it, unlike his predecessor, has made all the hard work this year to pass it worthwhile. Hate crimes continue to affect far too many Americans who are simply trying to live their lives honestly, and they need to know that their government will protect them from violence, and provide appropriate justice for victims and their families." -- Judy Shepard, president of the Matthew Shepard Foundation Board

"Today's vote marks a milestone for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. The hate crimes bill now shifts to the president. With his signature, President Obama will usher in a new era -- one in which hate-motivated violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will no longer be tolerated. Our country will finally take an unequivocal stand against the bigotry that too often leads to violence against LGBT people, simply for being who they are." -- Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund.

“We’re in the home stretch.  This critical piece of legislation is on its way to the President’s desk for his signature. We look forward to President Obama signing it into law; 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.  We now can begin the important steps to erasing hate in our country.” -- Joe Solmonese, president of Human Rights Campaign

“This is a key victory for the LGBT community and all those concerned with equality across the country.  After more than a decade of fighting for equal protection under the law from hate crimes, Congress has affirmed that no one should be forced to live in fear of violence because of who they are. Hate crimes legislation has consistently been demonized by the right wing and their allies in Congress.  They’ve said that the bill would punish preachers for speaking out against homosexuality, and religious leaders and their supporters would be jailed.  They portrayed the hate crimes legislation as a ‘threat to religious liberty,’ and spread the lie that churches will be silenced if this bill passed.  Today’s strong bipartisan vote should put an end to such misrepresentations.” -- Michael B. Keegan, president of People For the American Way

"Today the United States Senate passed the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, turning the page on a dark era for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. I clearly remember the day 11 years ago when I learned that Matthew Shepard had been found beaten and abandoned in rural Wyoming. The murder told gay and lesbian Americans across the country that we were not safe. And the federal government could not help to prosecute this crime. Lack of federal support forced the Laramie Sherriff’s Office to furlough five deputies for the Shepard investigation.

"This story repeats itself all too regularly for transgender Americans. A transgender woman named Tyli’a Mack was recently stabbed to death in a likely hate crime this August, blocks away from the Capitol. But once again the federal government was not able to provide assistance. Today’s vote changes that. It firmly places the federal government on the side of LGBT Americans and sends a clear message that homophobia and transphobia are unacceptable. The bill urges police to take into account the homophobia and transphobia that undergird too many crimes, while giving law enforcement agencies around the country the tools they have asked for to effectively fight these crimes. This assistance is especially critical at a time when police department budgets are already being cut.” -- Winnie Stachelberg, senior vice president for external affairs at American Progress

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