Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Hate Crime Bill is finally law.....

Yesterday Barack Obama signed into law a hate crimes bill that included LGBT Americans.  This is the result of years of work on the part of the leaders and foot soldiers in the LGBT community. U.S. Attorney General Holder called the bill a “civil rights issue that is clearly a priority.” Wrote Joe Solmonese, Director of the Human Rights Campaign:

    I cannot overstate the importance of this moment. This is the first time ANY federal equality measure     protecting LGBT rights has become law. The very first time. And it is the first federal law to explicitly  protect transgender people. It is a touchstone in our movement, a triumph of what is right. And I truly feel things will never be the same.

    Also significant is that the law will now permit federal authorities to assist local governments in hate crime investigations, assistance that was sorely needed after the death of Matthew Sheppard, the gay man who was brutally murdered and left to die in a field ten years ago.  At last, the federal government has acknowledged the unique nature of crimes that target citizens because they are LGBT.  It is time to celebrate.
    So why am I not feeling very celebratory?  I get it.  I get how huge a moment this is.  I know that yesterday was a landmark in LGBT history.   I am deeply appreciative to all those who made it happen.  Yet I hear this voice that says, “Isn’t this just the beginning?  How long can you celebrate the fact that it is now officially illegal to target people because of their sexual or gender orientation?  Isn’t mandated tolerance a pretty low bar for acceptance?”
    It is up to all of us to make sure this bar is raised higher and higher.  We need to remember those who are LGBT in Uganda, where a law is being considered that would make some gay sexual activity punishable by death.  We need to remember the two gay Iranian teenagers who were put to death a few years ago because of who they were.  We need to remember the thousands of gay teenagers who kill themselves each year in the United States. 
    So yes, huge congratulations and profound thanks are due.  Now it’s time to continue the work.


  1. I agree, celebration does not seem fitting. Equal coverage under the law for all citizens seems basic, but a monster to achieve. When LGBT Americans don't have to think about personal safety because of sexual orientation, then we can celebrate...

  2. You are so right. It WAS a monster to achieve. Ted Kennedy started working on this many years ago. Of course George Bush threatened to veto any hate crimes bill that came to him. It took the right Congress and the right President to get his done.

  3. Well said...
    And you should recognize that blogs like yours, voices like yours, and doing that very work of making our world a better place!

  4. Thank you so very much! What a moving comment.

  5. This sort of change takes generations. If you grew up in the South in the 60s you would remember how taboo both divorce and interracial relationships were. 40 years later, the taboos survive, but only in corners.

    The big day for me was the Supreme Court's Lawrence v. Texas decision in 2003:

    " When homosexual conduct is made criminal by the law of the State, that declaration in and of itself is an invitation to subject homosexual persons to discrimination both in the public and in the private spheres. The central holding of Bowers has been brought in question by this case, and it should be addressed. Its continuance as precedent demeans the lives of homosexual persons."

    "The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime. Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government."

    Dry words, perhaps, but so important. North Carolina would have taken years to revoke its sodomy statute, which was used as justification to keep gays and lesbians out of the classroom and out of jobs. Homosexuals were "illegal people" just as much as undocumented aliens still are.

    -- Pat

    The Lawrence decision:

  6. I agree with your feelings about Lawrence. Long term, I think it will be seen (if it isn't already) as more important than the Massachusetts decision allowing same-sex marriage. In fact, Lawrence actually influenced that decision; I wonder if the Mass court would have ruled the same way without Lawrence five months earlier. I think it was JP Stevens (I may be wrong) who said that if he could change one of his votes, it would be to change is majority vote in he Bowers decision. That decision is a true blight on the court, along with a few choice others like Plessy v. Ferguson.