Press

Ten years. Thousands victimized. Not enough action.

Date: 
October 07, 2008

MEDIA CONTACT:
Roberta Sklar, Communications Director
(Office) 646.358.1465
(Cell) 917.704.6358
rsklar@theTaskForce.org

Thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have been victims of hate-motivated violence since Matthew Shepard’s death, and still there is no federal hate crimes law covering sexual orientation and gender identity

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7 — Sunday, Oct. 12, marks the 10-year anniversary of the brutal death of Matthew Shepard, and many states and the federal government have yet to enact hate crimes protections covering both sexual orientation and gender identity. This, despite the fact that thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people have been the targets of hate-based violence in the decade since Shepard’s murder, according to statistics from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP).

Statement by Rea Carey, Executive Director
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund

“Ten years ago, the shocking murder of Matthew Shepard sent a national clarion call for stronger federal laws to combat crimes motivated by hate. Since then, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have continued to fall victim to hate-stoked violence in shocking numbers. Despite this epidemic of anti-LGBT violence, the federal government has refused to enact a hate crimes law covering sexual orientation and gender identity. This shameful failure of national will and resolve must end in 2009 with a new president and a new Congress.

“Today, we remember and mourn Matthew Shepard. We also remember other young people whose voices fell silent this past year. We mourn Ashley Sweeney of Detroit, Mich., shot to death in February 2008; we mourn Lawrence King of Oxnard, Calif., shot to death in his middle-school classroom in February 2008; we mourn Simmie Williams Jr. of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., shot to death in February 2008; and we mourn Angie Zapata of Greeley, Colo., beaten to death with a fire extinguisher in July 2008. We remember and mourn all victims of hate violence, but especially these and other young gender-nonconforming people, who died in the hope of freedom to live their lives as they wished.”

Assessment of progress during the past 10 years

Currently, 31 states and D.C. have hate crimes laws that track or make illegal crimes motivated by sexual orientation and/or gender identity and expression. However, by the time of Matthew Shepard’s death in 1998, 23 of these 31 states had already passed their laws. Since his death 10 years ago, only eight states have added hate crimes protections (Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, Tennessee and Texas). In 19 states, there are no hate crime laws protecting anyone in the LGBT community.

On the federal level, champions in both the House and Senate have continued to prioritize passage of legislation that would expand and strengthen federal hate crimes legislation. In the 110th Congress, both chambers with bipartisan majorities passed the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act as a free-standing bill in the House and an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization Act in the Senate. This is the first time both chambers have considered a bill that included both gender identity and sexual orientation. However, strategic and procedural problems prevented Congress from sending a bill to President George Bush, who promised to veto the bill if it did reach that point.

Epidemic of anti-LGBT violence

LGBT people are disproportionately affected by hate violence. Reports produced by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (1984–1993) and the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (1994–2007) have documented more than 35,000 anti-LGBT crimes over the last two decades. It is important to note that these statistics are based on reports from only a handful of local LGBT crime victim assistance agencies. Inclusion of transgender people in hate crimes laws is especially important because violence against transgender people is widespread, largely underreported, and disproportionately greater than the number of transgender people in society. The total number of victims reporting anti-LGBTQ violence to NCAVP in 2007 was 2,430, which represents a 24 percent increase over the total number of victims reported in 2006.

The Task Force has led the movement-wide effort to secure an effective and full governmental response to hate crimes against LGBT people, beginning with the launch of its groundbreaking anti-violence project in 1982. Task Force organizing, coalition building and lobbying resulted in the 1990 passage of the Hate Crimes Statistics Act, sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Conyers.

Reporter resource: Download our hate crimes law map.

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The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund, founded in 1974 as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Inc., works to build the grassroots political power of the LGBT community to win complete equality. We do this through direct and grassroots lobbying to defeat anti-LGBT ballot initiatives and legislation and pass pro-LGBT legislation and other measures. We also analyze and report on the positions of candidates for public office on issues of importance to the LGBT community. The Task Force Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) non-profit corporation incorporated in New York. Contributions to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund are not tax deductible.