On July 12, Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) filed the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (S. 1105) as an amendment for consideration to the Department of Defense Reauthorization currently being debated before the U.S. Senate.  

The bill, commonly referred to as the "Hate Crimes Bill," could receive a Senate vote as early as today.  The virtually identical House version of the bill passed overwhelmingly on May 3, with a bipartisan vote of 237 to 180 - with more than 20 Republicans voting in support of the bill.

The State of Tennessee Hate Crimes law does not cover gender identity or expression. The Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition (TTPC) has joined many other groups across the nation in support of S.1105.

"It is time to send a message that violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people will not be tolerated,"  said TTPC President Marisa Richmond. "The board and members of  TTPC encourage all to contact members of the United States Senate and ask them to vote 'yes' on the Matthew Shepard Act. Please call Tennessee Senators Lamar Alexander (202-224-4944) and Bob Corker (202-224-3344) and ask them to vote "yes" on the Matthew Shepard Act."

The Matthew Shepard Act is supported by more than 290 law enforcement, civil rights, civic and religious organizations. Some of those supporting organizations include the National Sheriffs Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 26 state attorneys general, the National District Attorneys Association, the NAACP, the Episcopal Church, the League of Women Voters, the YWCA of the USA and the United Methodist Church. 

"Without any further delay, it's time for Congress to provide local police and sheriffs' departments with the tools and resources they need to ensure that entire communities are not terrorized by hate violence," said Joe Solmonese, President of the Human Rights Campaign.  "On behalf of the overwhelming majority of the American people, we stand today and urge the US Senate to pass the Matthew Shepard Act and send a strong message that hate violence against any American will no longer be tolerated."

"The Matthew Shepard Act sends a strong message to America that hate and the violent crimes committed in its wake are not acceptable in our society. This crucial piece of legislation is an important step in the ongoing effort to erase hate. I cannot think of a single more resounding action for the Senate to take in our son Matthew's memory," said Judy Shepard, Executive Director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

The Human Rights Campaign, along with a coalition of organizations including the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Interfaith Alliance and the Religious Action Center released a list today of more than 1,300 faith leaders who have signed on to a letter urging passage of the Matthew Shepard Act (S. 1105) in the U.S. Senate - a bill that would update the current hate crimes law.

The 1,385 faith leaders signing the letter represents a broad spectrum of religious voices urging passage of a hate crimes bill that is expected for a Senate vote in the near future. Read the complete letter at www.clergyagainsthate.org

In addition to the letter, the Human Rights Campaign, along with the Leadership Council on Civil Rights and the National Black Justice Coalition, has also published a full page ad in Wednesday's edition of Roll Call.  The ad features a theologically diverse group of black clergy representing tens of thousands of Americans speaking out in support of proposed hate crimes legislation.

A copy of the ad can be viewed above and to the right; click on the image for a larger view.

According to the FBI, somewhere in this country a hate crime is being committed once every hour and one in six of those crimes are because of the victim's sexual orientation.  These hate crimes terrorize entire communities and violate America's core democratic principles that all citizens are created equal and are afforded equal protection under the law.  

In 2007 alone, numerous hate crimes against GLBT persons have been documented in the State of Tennessee.

On January 7, Nakia Baker, a transgender woman living in Nashville, was found shot to death in a parking lot.

On February 27, a transgender man living in Chattanooga was physically beaten by a neighbor.  He had filed complaints before this and had only received insults and threats from the Chattanooga Police Department.  Despite witnesses identifying the assailants, the Chattanooga Police Department have made no arrests.  

On March 29, a teen-aged gay male student at Cumberland County High School was brutally beaten by a fellow student.  School officials were forced to use a taser on the student doing the beating in order to stop it.  

On April 5, a gay male resident of McMinnville found death threats and other hateful statements written on his home. Additional threats were made on May 19.  

On April 18, anti-GLBT graffiti was written across the campus of the University of Tennessee at Martin while the same day, a high school student at David Crockett High School in Jonesborough was suspended for raising awareness of anti-GLBT violence.

This legislation would help combat hate crimes across America by doing two important things:  updating the federal hate crimes laws to include all Americans, and providing new resources and tools to assist local law enforcement in prosecuting these vicious crimes.

In addition to this year's overwhelming, bipartisan vote in the House to support this legislation, both the Senate and House have voted in favor of legislation to combat bias motivated violence in prior Congresses. In the 108th Congress, the Senate passed the measure by an overwhelming vote of 65-33, with 18 Senate Republicans voting yes.  

The Human Rights Campaign has produced an award-winning video focusing on passage of the Matthew Shepard Act that has been viewed over 360,000 times on YouTube - making it the most watched HRC video to date.

To view the video, copy and paste the following URL into your Web browser:

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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