A New Era of LGBT Civil Rights

Liz SeatonI am just back from the White House, where President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law.

This is a historic, landmark and emotional  victory,  yet even as we celebrate it, we acknowledge that it has been wrought from violent loss, from the courage of families who have stood up to tell the stories of their loved ones in courts, in the halls of Congress, and to all those who would listen. Today, I think of the Shepards, the Byrds, the Warrens of West Virginia, the Zapatas of Colorado, the Green family from New York, Sylvia Guerrero, mother of Gwen Araujo from California, and so many more.  I remember my friend  Tacy Ranta, an activist  from Baltimore, Maryland, now gone 10 years. This new law honors them all, for the true purpose of this law is to save lives.

This law also represents so much more—the turning of the tide on the national level on LGBT issues. It is the first federal law to include both sexual orientation and gender identity, defined to include gender expression. The law says that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are entitled to the full measure of protections under the law. This is incredibly important.

Twenty six state attorney generals and a critical mass of law enforcement organizations and officers supported passage of this measure, and we offer each of you our thanks. Special gratitude goes to Attorney General Eric Holder for his compelling testimony in support of the bill.

To those senators and representatives who led the way, including the late Senator Ted Kennedy, you have our deepest appreciation. To all who found it in their hearts to vote for this measure, we thank you.

And to President Obama, for your visionary leadership and for signing this measure into law, we offer you our profound gratitude. Because, in your own words, “No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hand of someone they love.”

In this struggle for civil rights, for equality under the law, our work builds on the foundation built by those who came before us and who now stand with us. This measure is a victory for our community and for all those who will have some extra measure of recognition  but much of the credit for passage of this historic legislation is due to our allies. We owe enormous thanks to those from  mainstream civil rights, women’s and religious communities and so many others who supported this measure and with whom I stood today, filled with emotion, at the White House. I am in awe, and their work is  our inspiration. Together, we share a common vision of a brighter country, a different future—one key step at a time, we are making our way there.

So today, we celebrate.

Tomorrow – full steam ahead on other laws that we need, on ENDA, and so much more.

From Washington, with fondest regards,

Liz Seaton
NCLR Director of Projects and Managing Attorney

2009 hate crimes bill signing

picture by Liz Seaton

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