The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Hate crime bill finally includes homosexuals

President Barack Obama signed a bill on Oct. 28 that extended federal hate crimes to protect those discriminated against by gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. “After more than a decade of opposition and delay, we’ve passed inclusive hate crimes legislation to help protect our citizens from violence based on what they look like, who they love, how they pray, or who they are,” Obama said according to the Huffington Post.

Nearly 11 years after the death of Matthew Shepard, this piece of legislation was titled The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, in his honor.

In 1998, 21-year-old Shepard accepted a ride from two strangers he had met at a bar. Upon finding out Shepard was gay, the men brutally beat and tortured Shepard and strung him up on a fence on a Laramie ranch to die in frigid temperatures. Shepard died soon after being discovered by someone who at first mistook him for a scarecrow.

Shepard’s murder was so brutal and so obviously hate-driven that it quickly became a focal point for the movement towards equal protection for the gay community.

The bill is a great victory for those seeking equal rights based on gender discrimination, and it will render any gay-targeting act as a federally enforced hate crime, making the consequences for perpetrators much harsher.

Many people, however, are unaware that The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was packaged along with a larger defense spending bill. This defense spending bill authorizes $680 billion of military spending and includes increased funding for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Democracy Now.

The combination of gay rights and military spending in this bill may have actually been vital to its success because it forced members of both parties to compromise on issues which were previously deadlocked.

“Despite the progress we’ve made, there are still laws to change and hearts to open,” Obama said in an address to the Human Rights Campaign, according to CNN. “Today I’m pleased to say that we have proved that change is possible.”

At Guilford, the expansion of hate crime protection could not be more relevant. The bias incident that occurred in Bryan Hall highlights the foreseeable impact the bill should have to protect homosexuals who have been persecuted or threatened.

“This is a great first step and I applaud the president,” said PRIDE president Brian Daniel. “I think this bill is really focused on accountability. It should help tremendously.”

Daniel said that many times he has heard people object to this legislature because they feel that it gives a gay or transgendered person more legal protection than the average American citizen. He understands their sentiments but was able to put the issue into larger perspective.

“Hate crimes affect not just a person, but a community,” he pointed out.

In a speech given before the signing of the bill, Obama sought to spread a similar message to the nation.

“You understood that we must stand against crimes that are meant not only to break bones, but to break spirits – not only to inflict harm, but to instill fear,” he said. “You understand that the rights afforded every citizen under our Constitution mean nothing if we do not protect those rights – both from unjust laws and violent acts.

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