To the Editor:
It is imperative that our representatives understand the critical nature of the Matthew Shepard Act (S. 1105). We live in a country where one in six hate crimes is motivated by the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity.
True, we have had a federal hate crimes law on the books since1969, yet it has never included crimes targeting victims because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The job of the United States government, first and foremost, is to protect all Americans, regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.
This law is a bipartisan bill that would expand the definition of hate crimes to include violent attacks based on a victim's gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability. It would also provide funding to help law enforcement agencies investigate and prosecute violent hate crimes.
The Matthew Shepard Act would only apply to violent attacks based on the victim's gender, sexual orientation, disability, or gender identity. It does not criminalize thoughts or free speech. The religious right is putting its own spin on this by calling it a law that would criminalize thoughts, but that is simply absurd.
This legislation has been endorsed by over 230 civic, religious, and law enforcement organizations across the country. According to a recent Gallup Poll, 68 percent of Americans cutting across race, religion, and ideology favor strengthening laws to give local law enforcement agencies the tools and resources they need to prevent and prosecute these heinous acts of prejudice.
In spite of what the right would have the country believe, this law is not special treatment. It would make sure Americans across the spectrum are protected. It comes down to ensuring that no American may be targeted for violence because of who they are.