This afternoon President Obama signed The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a bill that updates the original 1968 federal hate crimes statute to make violence against gay, lesbian, transgender, and disabled people a federal crime. The bill, a version of which was first introduced in 1996, two years before the hate-motivated murders of Shepard and Byrd in 1998, allows for federal investigators, forensic tools, and funds to be allotted to help state and local officials tackle hate crimes.
"As a straight ally and as a person with many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender family members, friends and fans, I want to thank the Human Rights Campaign, Judy and Dennis Shepard and Senator Edward Kennedy for their leadership in the 11 year struggle to get the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd, Jr. Hates Crimes Prevention Bill enacted," longtime gay rights advocate Cyndi Lauper said in a statement today. "FINALLY, with President Obama's signature, violent hate crimes against the LGBT community will be recognized and prosecuted by the Federal government. This is only the beginning, I believe that the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act, as well as the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, will soon be here. Today, that light at the end of the tunnel for the LGBT civil rights movement is much brighter."