President Barack Obama signed today the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act, which strengthens existing U.S. laws by expanding federal hate crime protection to cases where the victim was targeted because of their sexual orientation, gender, disability or gender identity.
UCC General Minister and President the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black affirmed the similar tone between this legislation and pronouncements of the UCC's General Synod. "The General Synod has been on record since 1989 supporting hate crimes legislation, expressing solidarity and support for the victims of violence, recognizing that the whole community benefits from efforts to reduce violence and calling for all settings of the church to work to end violence," he said.
In 2003 the 24th General Synod called "for an end of any form of hate, violence, and prejudice based on sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as violence and prejudice based on race, nationality, religion, mental or physical disability" including "the use of scripture to generate hatred and the violation of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender persons..."
The bill is named for Matthew Shepard, the Wyoming college student who, in 1999, was beaten to death because he was gay and James Byrd, Jr., an African-American, who was lynched by three white supremacists and dragged to his death chained by the ankles to a pickup truck. Key provisions of the legislation extend federal resources to local law enforcement officials to investigate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons believed to be motivated by bias and bring the perpetrators to justice.
"I applaud the President's signing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act," said the Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, the UCC's executive for health and wholeness advocacy. "Violence against persons because of their real or perceived sexual orientation, or because of their gender identity or expression continues to occur in this country."
The legislation was added to the 2010 defense authorization bill that passed the Senate by a 68-29 vote last week. The House approved the defense bill Oct. 8 by a 281-146 margin.