"We must stand against crimes that are meant not only to break bones but to break spirits. No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hands of the person they love." ~President Barack Obama
WASHINGTON -- Today at the White House, President Barack Obama signed the first major piece of federal gay rights legislation, a milestone that activists compared to the passage of 1960s civil-rights legislation empowering blacks. The new law adds acts of violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to the list of federal hate crimes.
The amendment was named partly for Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming who died after a 1998 savage beating targeting him because he was gay, and whose parents were instrumental in leading the fight for such legislation, and also named for James Byrd Jr., a black Texas man dragged to his death in a racially motivated killing the same year.
Matthew Shepard's parents joined Obama for the bill signing, as did the family of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy who was deeply involved in pushing the legislation prior to his death in August.
Judy Shepard issued a statement saying that she and her husband, Dennis, "are incredibly grateful to Congress and the president for taking this step forward on behalf of hate crime victims and their families, especially given the continuing attacks on people simply for living their lives openly and honestly."
She also called on Americans to look beyond legislation and work in their own lives to advance acceptance of gays.