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President Barack Obama Signs Hate Crimes Legislation Into Law

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – The Human Rights Campaign praised President Barack Obama today for signing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law. The new law gives the Justice Department the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violence where the perpetrator has selected the victim because of the person's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. The legislation was added as a provision to the FY 2010 National Defense Authorization Act earlier this summer.

“This law honors our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters whose lives were cut short because of hate,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “Today’s signing of the first major piece of civil rights legislation to protect LGBT Americans represents a historic milestone in the inevitable march towards equality. Although this is a major step in fighting the scourge of hate violence, it is not the end of the road.”

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act honors the memory of Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming college student brutally murdered in an act of hate violence in 1998, and James Byrd, an African-American man who was dragged to death in Jasper, Texas, in 1998.

“We are incredibly grateful to Congress and the president for taking this step forward on behalf of hate crime victims and their families, especially given the continuing attacks on people simply for living their lives openly and honestly,” said Judy Shepard, executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation. “But each of us can and must do much more to ensure true equality for all Americans."

“We appreciate everyone who worked so hard on this bill. My son was taken at such an early age and we hope this law will help prevent other families from going through what we experienced,” said Stella Byrd, mother of James Byrd. “Even though we’re different colors and different sexual orientations or gender identities, God made us all and he loves us all.”

Equality California Executive Director Geoff Kors also applauded the President for signing the bill.

"We are thrilled that President Obama has signed this fundamental piece of legislation, which ensures that the federal government will fulfill its obligation to protect all people of this nation, including LGBT people," said Kors. “We applaud the President and Congress for joining California in standing up against violence based on hate.”

Earlier this year, Equality California sponsored companion resolutions that call on the United States Congress to immediately pass and President Obama to sign the Matthew Shepard Act, which expands the landmark 1969 United States federal hate crimes law to include crimes motivated by a victim's real or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

“The President believes every human being is entitled to equality and the same dignity and protection under the law,” said California Assemblymember Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara). “Signing this crucial legislation will help curb violence against the LGBT community and provide needed resources and funding to local law enforcement.”

“It has taken over a decade of perseverance to get to this momentous day, and we thank all those who have worked to achieve this incredible victory, said National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey. “Laws embody the values of our nation, and through the enactment of this hate crimes law, our country has — once and for all — sent a clear and unequivocal message that it rejects and condemns all forms of hate violence, including crimes motivated by hatred of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

“We look forward to the days ahead when we will join together again to celebrate full equality and recognition of our community, including in employment, the military and in the full recognition of our families. We know that we have much work ahead of us. Today, we must pause and shine a light on this critical first step taken by Congress, and the willingness of this president to follow through on his promise to sign this legislation ensuring the laws of the land will protect all of us.”

This legislation was first introduced in the 105th Congress. There have been 14 total votes in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate to bring this historic legislation to the president’s desk.