The Senate passed the Matthew Shepard Act, a bill that would extend protection to gays, lesbians and transgender individuals in a federal hate crime statute. Sixty Senators (enough to override a Republican filibuster) voted to attach the Matthew Shepard Act, named for the gay Wyoming college student murdered in 1998, as an amendment to the 2008 Department of Defense authorization bill. The measure was sponsored by Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Gordon Smith, R-Ore. The measure would give the federal government more leeway to investigate and prosecute hate crimes and increase federal jurisdiction on such crimes. It would expand the groups protected under current law to include such categories as disability, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.
Matthew Shepard’s parents, Judy and Dennis, were happy to hear the news. The couple released this joint statement:
“Today’s Senate vote sends a bold and unmistakable message that violent crimes committed in the name of hate must end. The Matthew Shepard Act is an essential step to erasing hate in America and we are humbled that it bears our son’s name. It has been almost nine years since Matthew was taken from us. This bill is a fitting tribute to his memory and to all of those who have lost their lives to hate.”
I saw Judy Shepard speak at Pitt. She was a touching and down to earth speaker. She shared her stories as an example to others and did an in-depth Q&A. What I remember distinctly was her reading her victim impact statement from the trial. Although I had seen the video from the trial, watching it in person was intense.