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Issues

The Situation at the Federal Level

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (Matthew Shepard/James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act) was signed into law by President Obama on October 28, 2009. The law adds sexual orientation, gender identity, gender, and disability to the categories included in existing federal hate crimes statute.

The Act strengthens existing federal hate crime laws in the following ways:

• It expands the law to authorize the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute certain bias-motivated crimes based on the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. Before this law took effect, only race, color, religion or national origin were considered in hate crime determination.

• It eliminates a serious limitation on federal involvement under the previous law, which required that a victim of a bias-motivated crime was attacked because he/she was engaged in a specified federally-protected activity such as voting, serving on a jury, or attending school; and

• It adds “gender” and “gender identity” to the Hate Crimes Statistics Act.