Task Force leader Rae Carey praised the passage of hate crimes protections, which her group has been working on since 1981.
Task Force leader Rae Carey praised the passage of hate crimes protections, which her group has been working on since 1981.

Legislation to expand hate crimes coverage to those targeted for their sexual orientation, gender, gender-identity and disability cleared its last hurdle on Oct. 22. The U.S. Senate voted 68-29 to pass the measure. President Barack Obama signed the bill on Oct. 28 in a ceremony at the White House.

Senators from the Carolinas were split on the legislation. North Carolina Democrat Kay Hagan voted yes on the legislation, but Republican Richard Burr voted no. Both senators from South Carolina, Republicans Jim DeMint and Lindsay Graham, also voted no.

The New York Times reported that DeMint agreed hate crimes were terrible. “That’s why they are already illegal,” he said. The Times also reported that DeMint thought the legislation was dangerous and an “‘Orwellian’ step toward ‘thought crime.’”

This year’s historic passage of the hate crimes legislation first cleared the U.S. House by a vote of 281-146. The Carolinas delegation also split in that vote. Six Democratic House members from North Carolina voted for the legislation, along with South Carolina’s two Democratic representatives. The rest of South Carolina’s delegation, all Republicans, voted against the bill. In North Carolina, all Republicans and two Democrats voted no.

By the vote

North Carolina
Burr (R) — NAY
Hagan (D) — AYE

South Carolina
DeMint (R) — NAY
Graham (R) — NAY

North Carolina
Coble (R) — NAY
Butterfield (D) — AYE
Etheridge (D) — AYE
Foxx (R) — NAY
Jones (R) — NAY
Kissell (D) — AYE
McHenry (R) — NAY
McIntyre (D) — NAY
Miller (D) — AYE
Myrick (R) — NAY
Price (D) — AYE
Watt (D) — AYE
Shuler (D) — NAY

South Carolina
Barrett (R) — NAY
Brown (R) — NAY
Clyburn (D) — AYE
Inglis (R) — NAY
Spratt (D) — AYE
Wilson (R) — NAY

National LGBT advocacy organizations were also pleased to see the bill head to Obama’s desk.

“The Senate’s decision to pass this bill sends a clear message that the civil rights of every American are worth protecting and defending,” said Sharon J. Lettman, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition. “No one should have to live their life in fear of violence simply for living their life openly.”

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey said the time for such progressive policy changes is expected by Americans in 2009.

“Americans are hungry for this type of positive change,” she said. “They do not want to see their LGBT friends, family, neighbors and co-workers subjected to violence simply for living their lives. Laws embody the values of our nation; when this critical legislation becomes law, our nation will — once and for all — send the unmistakable message that it rejects and condemns hate violence against its people.”

The movement to enact hate crimes protections for LGBT people has been a high profile component of LGBT advocacy work since the murder of Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard in 1998. His murder and its aftermath in smalltown Laramie, well-known to many across the country, have been documented by a nationally-acclaimed play that was later turned into a movie. “The Laramie Project” recently celebrated its 10th anniversary with a new epilogue performed in over 100 theatres in each of the 50 states. Five performances of the epilogue took place in the Carolinas.

On the day of the Senate’s approval, the Shepard Foundation released a statement from Dennis and Judy Shepard, Matt’s parents: “Dennis and I are extremely proud of the Senate for once again passing this historic measure of protection for victims of these brutal crimes. Knowing that the president will sign it, unlike his predecessor, has made all the hard work this year to pass it worthwhile. Hate crimes continue to affect far too many Americans who are simply trying to live their lives honestly, and they need to know that their government will protect them from violence, and provide appropriate justice for victims and their families.”

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force first began organizing for an anti-LGBT hate crimes legislation in 1981. In 1990, the Hate Crimes Statistics Act was enacted to gather detailed reports on criminal acts motivated by bias against a person’s race, ethnicity, religious, gender, sexual orientation and other characteristics.

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.

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