October 28, 2009
President Obama has just signed into law the very first protections for transgender people in US history: The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The bill passed both houses of Congress earlier this month as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act.
“This is a powerful day as the United States government, for the very first time, stands up and declares that violence based on gender identity is wrong and will not be tolerated in our country,” stated Mara Keisling, the Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “Every day transgender people live with the reality and the threat of personal violence, simply because of who they are. This must end and it must end now. The new law provides for some vital first steps in preventing these terrible crimes as well as addressing them when they occur. At NCTE, we are dedicating this day to all those who have been victims of hate-motivated violence as well as recommitting ourselves to ending the epidemic of hate that continues to damage our communities and our country.”
The Hate Crimes Prevention Act will have a number of positive impacts:
1. It will help educate law enforcement about the frequent hate violence against transgender people and the need to prevent and appropriately address it; 2. It will help provide federal expertise and resources when they are needed to overcome a lack of resources or the willful inaction on the part of local and/or state law enforcement;
3. It will help educate the public that violence against anyone, including transgender people, is unacceptable and illegal.
Most importantly, this law marks a turning point for the federal government by including protections based on gender identity and taking seriously the need to address the disproportional levels of violence that transgender people face. In the past, federal law has only mentioned gender identity in a negative context, such as explicitly excluding transgender people from the Americans with Disabilities Act.