"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.
"Just as importantly, this bill starts Congress and the White House down the path toward full equality for LGBT Americans. Further progress will require a broad and engaged coalition and plenty of hard work. But I am confident that we can continue to move forward with the support of President Obama and congressional leadership on repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, protecting LGBT workers from discrimination, and recognizing all our relationships. I look forward to President Barack Obama signing this bill into law next week."
Winnie Stachelberg is the Senior Vice President for External Affairs at American Progress.