President Barack Obama Signs the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act
The new law will expand “the 1969 United States federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.”
The bill also:
- removes the current prerequisite that the victim be engaging in a federally-protected activity, like voting or going to school;
- gives federal authorities greater ability to engage in hate crimes investigations that local authorities choose not to pursue;
- provides $10 million in funding for 2008 and 2009 to help state and local agencies pay for investigating and prosecuting hate crimes;
- requires the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to track statistics on hate crimes against transgender people (statistics for the other groups are already tracked).
The Matthew Shepard Act is the first law in the history of the United States federal government to extend legal protections to transgender persons.
James Byrd Jr. is buried in the Jasper City Cemetery. In 1999, the fence separating whites from blacks was torn down, but Byrd’s grave has been vandalized with racial epithets. After George W. Bush went on to the presidency, the James R. Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act was enacted in May 2001 in Texas; before no hate crimes bill had ever entered into law in the state. There are now three black councilmembers on the Jasper city council, which constitutes a majority, along with a black mayor. James Byrd Jr. continues to make history.
There is no gravesite for Mathew Shepard. He was cremated. The fence to which Shepard was tied to was the site of many memorials, flowers, and notes. It has since been removed by the landowner.
It is said that his ashes repose with family members. His mother has become the linchpin for the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which seeks to educate the public about LGBT youth, about erasing hate in society, and about the fight to ensure equality for all LGBT Americans.