Press

One Year. Twenty Dead. No Action.

Date: 
October 11, 1999

Epidemic of hate crime against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people fails to move most lawmakers to pass strong hate crimes laws

MEDIA CONTACT:
Roberta Sklar, Director of Communications
media@theTaskForce.org
646.358.1465

Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, and both the U.S. House of Representatives and many states have failed to pass strong hate crimes laws covering gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.

During the past year, according to statistics provided by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, at least 20 GLBT people have been murdered across the United States.

"The murder of Matthew Shepard was a national clarion call for strong hate crimes laws, but most of our political leaders have failed to respond," said Kerry Lobel, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "From James Byrd Jr. to Joseph Ileto to Matthew Shepard, people are being targeted for violence just because they are perceived as different. In the year since Matthew's wrenching death, many minority groups have come under attack Ð Jews, Christians, Asian-Americans, African Americans and women. Together all of us must renew our efforts to demand passage of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act in Congress and approval of hate crimes legislation inclusive of sexual orientation in the 28 states that do not have such laws."

Since Shepard's death, only three states — Missouri, California and New Hampshire — have acted on hate crimes legislation. Missouri enacted a strong hate crimes law that covers GLBT people, while California and New Hampshire strengthened already-existing anti-violence laws.

But hate crimes legislation inclusive of sexual orientation failed in 22 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, New Mexico (where a bill passed the Legislature but was vetoed by the governor), New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.

In an historic move, the Senate passed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act this past summer. But so far, House members have not followed the Senate's lead.

Lobel noted that many of the 20 GLBT victims of hate violence over the past year were transgendered people whose deaths received little media attention. "Today we remember Matthew Shepard," Lobel said. "We also remember Tracy Thompson of Cordele, GA., who was struck in the head with a baseball bat in March 1999. We remember Emmon Bodfish of Orinda, CA., who was bludgeoned to death in June 1999. We remember Chareka Keys of Cleveland, OH., who died of blunt trauma to the head Sept. 27, 1999. We remember all victims of hate violence and look forward to building a world where diversity is seen as a strength, not a reason to kill."

"When a hate crime occurs, every single one of us is diminished, regardless of our race, our religion, our sexual orientation," Lobel said. "The very thing that separates hate crimes from other crimes of violence is that we are selected because of the community we represent. Hate crimes are meant to tear at the very fabric of our society."

Lobel concluded that "each of us has a responsibility to acknowledge and speak up against all expressions of discrimination, scapegoating and violence. Our struggle must be focused, but it must not be narrow. We cannot expect others to be there for us if we are not there for them."

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The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movementís premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.