Dr. Blackwell's BLOG

Thursday, October 29, 2009

President Obama Signs Federal Hate Crimes Legislation

Filed under: GLBT Social Issues and Civil Rights — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 01:48

   After over a decade of fierce resistance from Bush and his fellow Republicans, today President Obama signed the first ever federal legislation mandating the inclusion of sexual orientation in all hate crimes statutes. Shortly after midnight on October 7, 1998, 21-year-old Matthew Shepard met Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson in a bar. McKinney and Henderson offered Shepard a ride in their car. Subsequently, Shepard was robbed, pistol whipped, tortured, tied to a fence in a remote, rural area in Laramie, Wyoming, and left to die. Still tied to the fence, Shepard was discovered 18 hours later by Aaron Kreifels, who initially mistook Shepard for a scarecrow. At the time of discovery, Shepard was still alive, but in a coma.Shepard suffered fractures to the back of his head and in front of his right ear. He had severe brain stem damage, which affected his body’s ability to regulate heart rate, body temperature and other vital functions. There were also about a dozen small lacerations around his head, face and neck. His injuries were deemed too severe for surgeons to operate. Shepard never regained consciousness and remained on full life support. He was pronounced dead at 12:53 A.M. on October 12, 1998, at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins. Police arrested McKinney and Henderson shortly thereafter, finding the bloody gun as well as the victim’s shoes and wallet in their truck.

Championed by Shepard’s surviving mother and father, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act has been debated within the Congress, Senate, and Presidency for over a decade. Even though thousands of gay men and women are victims of violence because of their sexual orientation every year, Republicans denounced the bill and implied the Act gave gay and lesbian victims of hate crimes “special rights.” I personally wrote letters to my then Republican Congressman Tom Feeney begging him to pass this important legislation. Each time, I received a reply thanking me for sending my letter but he would not be supporting “special rights” for gays and lesbians.  To show just how much has changed, in a resounding defeat, Democratic Congresswomen Suzanne Kosmas replaced the corrupt Republican. The reply I received from her said she resoundingly supported the legislation and believed strongly that when any class of persons is targeted with violence, the response should be swift and provide the most severe punishment permitted by law. It’s a refreshing change to see intelligence, empathy, and understanding slowly begin to erode the ignorance, stupidity, and  idiocy we’ve all had to endure for the past several years. Thank-you President Obama. We are all grateful that you have signed this vital bill into law. The thousands of gay men and women who have been victims of hate crimes can now have the justice they have been sorely missing.

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