TIPTON, IOWA – Seventeen-year-old Jake Stallman of Tipton, Iowa will receive the Spirit of Matthew Award from the Matthew Shepard Foundation this weekend for overcoming bullying and embracing who he is.
Jake says he was bullied in school after announcing he was gay in the seventh grade.
Over the years, he says the bullying escalated from teasing to a death threat. Looking for a way to cope with it all, Stallman turned to the Matthew Shepard Foundation.
It’s an organization that aims to support gay people across the country and now the organization is presenting an award to Stallman for overcoming the bullies and embracing who he is.
It took stepping out of his comfort zone for 17-year-old Jake Stallman to become the first male cheerleader in Tipton High School history.
“It was one of the hardest choices I had to make,” Stallman said. “I didn’t want to be like put back into bullying.”
Jake says years of bullying for being gay left him with no self-esteem and at times no will to live. As he became more angry and withdrawn his mom says she was looking for a way to help.
“What can I do? How can I fix this? How can I make him happy? How can I make him accepted?” wondered Tania McAtee, Jake’s mom. “And there’s just no big band aid you can put on your kid to make them feel better.”
In her search for answers to all her questions, Jake’s mom discovered the Matthew Shepard Foundation website. She reached out to the founders of the gay community support site who in turn invited Jake to blog for the foundation.
Since starting his blog in January, Jake says he’s found the support he needed to overcome years of bullying and the confidence to try out for the cheer team.
“I have seen him grow as an individual,” said Michelle Ellerhoff, Jake’s Cheer Coach. “I’ve seen his confidence level increase.”
And as his confidence continues to climb sky-high, Jake says he hopes to help others’ do the same.
“I feel like I became a warrior, a fighter. And I think I became a fighter because there are kids out there who are struggling right now,” said Stallman. “And if I’m not strong, who’s going to be strong for them?”
Posts Tagged ‘Matthew Shepard’
TIPTON, IOWA – Seventeen-year-old Jake Stallman of Tipton, Iowa will receive the Spirit of Matthew Award from the Matthew Shepard Foundation this weekend for overcoming bullying and embracing who he is.
LARAMIE, WYOMING — Every year, the day sneaks on up Judy Shepard to deliver its sucker punch from the past: The 12th of October. The day Matthew died.
“It hits you and you say to yourself: Oh, this is the day,” she says. “This is why I feel so terrible.”
Fifteen years ago this week, gay college student Matthew Shepard was pistol-whipped and left for dead: unconscious, barely alive, lashed to a jagged wooden fence outside this small prairie city by two men disgusted by his homosexuality. A passerby mistook the diminutive, 105-pound Shepard for a scarecrow — a forlorn and unthinkable image that still haunts a generation of Americans.
Judy Shepard refuses to associate her son with that image or with the date that he died, six days after the attack. Instead, she summons memories of her eldest boy on Dec. 1, his birthday, celebrating his love for politics, languages and the spectacle of the musical “The Phantom of the Opera.”
On the anniversary of her son’s death, Shepard thinks not of the past, but of the future. As co-founder of the Matthew Shepard Foundation and a tireless advocate for gay rights, she’s hosting the annual mid-October fundraiser at the group’s Denver headquarters to support its work promoting tolerance. That’s when she tries to gauge just how far Wyoming and the nation have come in their acceptance of others in the years since Matthew’s murder.
Often the answer isn’t comforting.
She’s frustrated that Wyoming remains among a handful of states with no hate-crime law. State legislators refuse to recognize gay partnerships of any kind. And while her hometown of Casper once had an openly gay mayor, she says, most gays here remain undercover, fearful they’ll be fired if their secret is exposed.
“Matthew’s death gave Wyoming a perfect opportunity to take the first step toward equality,” says Shepard, 61, during an interview in Casper. “Instead, it has taken two steps back.”
The nation’s attitudes toward gays have changed. They now openly serve in the military and 13 states have legalized same-sex marriage. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act expanded hate-crime laws to include offenses motivated by a victim’s gender or sexual orientation.
But setbacks still come. This month football players at the University of Mississippi yelled slurs and heckled actors during a performance of the play “The Laramie Project,” which explores the town’s reactions to the killing.
“It’s disappointing the nation as a whole isn’t embracing the movement to accept people like Matthew,” Shepard said. “We’ve still got a long way to go. That’s why an incident in Mississippi can still happen.”
Shepard believes her son’s death rallied others — gay and straight — to become more socially active. She has written a book, “The Meaning of Matthew: My Son’s Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed.” Still, she’s baffled by the power the crime still wields over the nation’s psyche.
“It’s a mystery,” she says. “Matt’s story has been used in this country to talk about the oppression of women in Afghanistan. His death initially brought gay issues to the attention of straight Americans. But I just can’t fathom why this tragedy continues to resonate with so many people.”
For Shepard, it seems like forever since Matthew, then 21 and still wearing boyish braces, telephoned from college to announce he was gay. Like many mothers in such situations, she already knew. “I asked him, ‘What took you so long to tell me?’”
Matthew had a favor to ask: He wanted to tell his father in person. Judy agreed — that way, she could prepare her husband, Dennis, a safety engineer based in Saudi Arabia, who had just returned to the U.S. for a family reunion.
At the gathering, in the privacy of a kitchen, Dennis was ready when his son said, “Dad, I’ve got something important to tell you.”
“What is it?” he said.
“So,” the father said, “what’s the important thing you have to tell me?”
Dennis Shepard, 64, remembers what happened next: “It shocked him. Matthew was really into theater and he was very dramatic. He thought I’d yell and scream at him, throw him through the door and bust things. As a dad, sure I’d wanted a son to go hunting and fishing with, but then I realized, ‘How selfish is that? We still have Matt. He’s still with us. We can still do things.’”
Two months later, Matthew Shepard was dead.
On the night of Oct. 6, 1998, Shepard left the Fireside Bar in Laramie with Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. He was discovered tied to the fence 18 hours later. Albany County Undersheriff Rob DeBree recalls that one deputy thought Shepard was a child: “He looked so small, so fragile — she said he was a boy of 12, maybe 13.”
The murder trial exposed a nation conflicted. As protesters waved signs with anti-gay slurs and “Matt Shepard rots in hell,” others covered the words with handmade “wings of angels,” as onlookers called them.
Years later, Dennis Shepard doesn’t hide his vitriol for his son’s killers, who received two consecutive life sentences without parole. “Bury ‘em deep,” he says, “so they can’t live to be martyrs or poster children.”
But healing has taken place here.
Guy Padgett, Casper’s gay former mayor, says Shepard’s murder prompted Wyoming to look harder at itself. “The way Matthew was killed forced people to answer the question: Is this the culture they wanted to be perceived to be from? And the answer for most was, ‘No.’”
For Jason Marsden, Padgett’s partner and executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, the death led to a personal epiphany: Then a Casper newspaper reporter, Marsden came out in a column, describing himself and Shepard, who was a friend, as “members of the loose-knit community of gay people striving to make our way in this sometimes hostile place called Wyoming.”
Nowadays, Marsden points to Cathy Connolly, Wyoming’s only openly gay legislator. Elected in 2009, she represents Laramie. He also dismisses a new book, “The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard,” that suggests Shepard was killed in a botched drug deal.
In Laramie, the crime-scene fence is gone, replaced by “No trespassing” signs, but emotional scars linger here.
“We’ve been painted in a pretty dim light for a crime that could have happened anywhere,” Albany County Sheriff Dave O’Malley says. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out of state and some bartender will learn I’m from Wyoming. He doesn’t talk about the great fishing here or wide-open spaces. He just says, ‘Oh, that’s the place that kid was killed.’”
The Shepards once thought they’d retire in Laramie. They’d met at the University of Wyoming, after all, and the family often visited Matthew’s godparents there.
“It always felt like home,” Judy says. “Now it just feels wrong.”
Judy has never been to the spot where her son died. She doesn’t want to carry that image. Instead, she rescued from the police evidence room the watch Matthew was wearing when he was attacked. It was a gift she gave him for his high school graduation.
She keeps it on a bedroom dresser where she can read its face, as a reminder of Matthew’s life — and that time goes on.
from The Los Angeles Times
The mother who championed gay rights after her son was tied to a fence and beaten to death couldn’t bear to sit through the play that has helped keep his memory alive for the nearly 15 years since his murder.
But this weekend, at the opening of a double-billing of Moises Kaufman’s “The Laramie Project” and “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Judy Shepard – seated in an aisle seat to allow for an easy escape – soldiered through the entire five-hour production, which recalls the story of Matthew Shepard’s death in 1998.
“I just really didn’t feel I needed to watch it because I lived it. And so many of the scenes bring back such horrific memories. I’ve never felt comfortable crying in public,” Shepard said just before the Saturday performance. “It’s been 15 years. I should be able to do this now.”
Shepard made it through with the help of hugs from well-wishers at the intermissions.
Kaufman, a playwright and director who leads the Tectonic Theater Project, recalled the Shepard murder as a watershed moment that helped create a generation of activists and energize “straight allies” to the cause of gay rights.
“All of a sudden we had an image, we had an event, that operated as a catalyst,” said Kaufman, a Venezuelan native who lives in New York.
The original play was born from the question of why Shepard’s murder resonated more than other hate crimes, Kaufman said. The play has been staged more than 1,000 times.
Ten years after Shepard’s death, Kaufman and Tectonic returned to Laramie, Wyoming, to produce an epilogue and to interview Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney, who are serving life sentences for the murder.
Nine U.S. states have legalized same-sex marriage, and in March the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage under federal law as being between a man and a woman, and whether Proposition 8, a California ballot initiative that outlawed same-sex marriage, should be struck down.
Henderson and McKinney confessed to meeting the 21-year-old at a Laramie bar on the night of Oct 6-7, pretending to be gay and offering him a ride home, with the intent to rob him. They grew enraged after Shepard made a sexual advance, they said, and took him to a desolate area in the outskirts of town, tied him to a fence and repeatedly struck him in the head with a handgun.
Shepard was close to death when he was discovered 18 hours later and he died in a Colorado hospital on October 12. In her 2010 book, “The Meaning of Matthew,” Judy Shepard wrote that while she was at her son’s side, she was barely aware of the rallies by thousands of well-wishers in cities across the country.
Judy Shepard, who is soft-spoken and shy despite her years in the limelight, says she is a reluctant advocate. But she has become a forceful voice for gay rights and a sort of mother figure for gay teens turned away by their own families.
“Many of us feel that Judy is the mother we never had. But it goes way beyond that,” Kaufman said. “It’s a story of a person who was put in an untenable situation and got the skills to triumph in that situation.”
Shepard, who still lives in Wyoming, heads the Matthew Shepard Foundation and has fought for gay rights in her home state and for a federal hate crimes bill, which President Barack Obama signed into law in 2009 with Shepard at his side.
“I did what people didn’t expect me to do, which was not go away,” she said. “As a straight person, I have a gravitas that someone in the gay community saying the things that I say would not have.”
She said she has been frustrated that change in Wyoming, also the setting of the 2005 film Brokeback Mountain, has come slowly. The state has no hate crimes law and this year the legislature rejected a gay marriage bill and a domestic partnership bill for same-sex couples.
Before the performance, a man who said he was about the same age as Matthew Shepard would be now tearfully thanked Shepard for her advocacy and said gay people “could not have had a better angel and a better mother.”
Shepard’s eyes also filled with tears, but she quickly regained her composure, saying: “This is what happens when you piss off somebody’s mom.”
Judy Shepard Addresses Gay Rights
PROMISES, PROMISES: Obama Keeps Word On Hate Crime
Senate Passes Measure That Would Protect Gays
Matthew Shepard… 11 Years Later
Matthew Shepard Act Passes House
IOWA CITY, IOWA – Overruling school officials, a Catholic bishop in Iowa said Monday he would not let a group that promotes equal rights for gays and lesbians present a college scholarship to an openly gay student during an upcoming award ceremony.
Bishop Martin Amos in Davenport said the Eychaner Foundation would not be allowed to present the Matthew Shepard Scholarship to Keaton Fuller during the May 20 ceremony at Prince of Peace Catholic School in Clinton, saying the group’s support for gay rights conflicts with church doctrine.
The announcement comes after a school official signed a document last month that promised to let a representative of the foundation’s scholarship committee present the award to Fuller.
In an open letter released Monday, Fuller said he’s never felt so “invalidated and unaccepted” as he did when he heard that news last week. He said he and his family were asking the school to reverse its decision, and he launched an online petition Monday that was signed by hundreds of supporters within its first hours.
“This whole ordeal has been incredibly hurtful, and I am even sadder that this will be one of my last experiences to remember my high school years by,” Fuller wrote.
The bishop’s decision also stunned school officials, who had encouraged Fuller to apply for the award and wrote letters on his behalf.
Founded by Iowa businessman and gay rights activist Rich Eychaner, the Des Moines-based foundation has awarded more than 130 Matthew Shepard scholarships to graduating high school seniors who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender since 2000. It is named for the gay Wyoming college student killed in 1998.
Citing his scholastic achievement and work fighting homophobia, the foundation chose Fuller this spring as one of three students for the gold scholarship, which is worth up to $40,000 over four years to attend one of Iowa’s three public universities. Fuller, 18, plans to go to the University of Iowa.
Fuller is believed to be the first gay student at a Catholic high school to attend multiple school dances with a partner of the same sex, said foundation executive director Michael Bowser.
“We were very proud of him for that,” he said.
Bowser said the group’s award presentations are part of the scholarship process because they send a message of acceptance. He said three other Catholic schools had rejected presentations for scholarship recipients in prior years, but the group thought Prince of Peace would be the first to allow it, given the staff’s support for Fuller.
Despite the school’s promise, Amos told Fuller’s parents last week that church policies on guest speakers would prohibit it, the Diocese of Davenport said in a statement. The policy says, “We cannot allow any one or any organization which promotes a position that is contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church to present at a diocesan institution.”
The diocese’s statement congratulated Fuller for winning “the generous award,” and said it would be announced by a school employee during the assembly.
School Board President Edward O’Neill said he was disappointed by the bishop’s decision. He said Fuller was a talented student who was accepted by his peers after coming out years ago. He said Fuller had taken his boyfriend to prom over the weekend and other school dances without controversy.
O’Neill said board members were briefed on the scholarship last month, and they were aware a foundation representative planned to present the scholarship. No one raised an objection until the bishop got involved, he said.
“We preach tolerance and acceptance but then we turn around and we don’t practice what we preach,” he said. “If the bishop says we’re not going to do it, I can voice my objection to it, but there’s not a whole lot I can do.”
Eychaner issued a statement saying he was shocked that the bishop believes the foundation’s work clashes with church teachings, noting it promotes tolerance and fights bullying. And he said he was confused how the bishop found the award itself acceptable to be announced but not by its sponsor.
from The Associated Press
In case there were any doubt that the annual announcements of literary prizes can yield high drama, an author was asked to withdraw from the shortlist for the National Book Awards on Monday, five days after she was mistakenly named a finalist by the National Book Foundation.
Lauren Myracle, an author of young-adult literature, was named to the shortlist last Wednesday for “Shine,” a novel about the experience of a gay teenager who is the victim of a hate crime. Shortly afterward the National Book Foundation corrected itself, saying that Ms. Myracle’s book was not meant to be a finalist but that it would stay on the five-book shortlist anyway. The foundation then added a sixth book, “Chime,” by Franny Billingsley, originally intended to be a finalist.
On Friday the foundation reversed itself, calling Ms. Myracle to ask her to withdraw from consideration, she said in a statement on Monday.
“I was over the moon last week after receiving the call telling me that ‘Shine’ was a finalist for the award,” Ms. Myracle said. “I was later informed that ‘Shine’ had been included in error, but would remain on the list based on its merits. However, on Friday I was asked to withdraw by the National Book Foundation to preserve the integrity of the award and the judges’ work, and I have agreed to do so.”
“Shine” was published in May by Amulet Books, part of Abrams Books.
The winners of the National Book Awards will be announced at a ceremony in Manhattan on Nov. 16, hosted by the actor and author John Lithgow. To be eligible for an award, a book must have been written by a citizen of the United States.
Harold Augenbraum, executive director of the National Book Foundation, said in a brief interview that he could not comment on why the initial decision to keep Ms. Myracle as a finalist had been changed.
“The whole thing is a regrettable incident, and I wish it hadn’t happened,” Mr. Augenbraum said. “I feel terrible personally, and I feel terrible for Lauren.”
At Ms. Myracle’s urging, the National Book Foundation will make a $5,000 donation to the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which advocates for gay youth, promoting dignity and acceptance.
Mr. Augenbraum declined to explain how the mistake occurred, saying that it was “an internal question.”
“Believe me, it won’t happen again,” he said.
from The New York Times
FRAMINGHAM, MASSACHUSETTS — Five people representing the Westboro Baptist Church were met with about 100 anti-protesters at Framingham High School this morning.
A man, a woman and three children appearing to be younger than 10 years old stood on A Street near the high school starting at about 6:30 this morning. They held signs with the words “Fear God,” “Mourn for Your Sins” and “God hates your feelings.”
The conservative religious group from Kansas was protesting this weekend’s performance of “The Laramie Project,” a play dealing with gay prejudice.
It’s a play about the 1998 murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyo.
Protesters from the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, which stages demonstrations outside military funerals and gay-rights events, say it is its sacred duty to warn others of God’s anger over homosexuality, and its slogan is “God hates fags.”
Standing nearby on Rte. 126, about 100 people countered the Westboro Baptist’s message, holding signs saying “Love is good,” “All you need is love” and “Standing on the side of love.”
The five Westboro Baptist people left at about 7:15 a.m. in an SUV headed to the Islamic Center of Boston in Wayland. As they left, the anti-protesters yelled over to them, “We love you,” the only direct exchange between the two sides.
The protesters left the Islamic Center at about 8 a.m.
Officers had closed off streets around the school and restricted parking around the campus complex.
The school’s drama director said the play is not about what the group may think it’s about.
“The play does not promote homosexuality. The play is about a community healing from a hate crime. That’s really what it’s about, but that’s not how they see it,” said Donna Wresinski.
Some of the drama students said they’ve received more positive feedback about the play than negative.
“I’ve got some negative stuff, but we’ve received so many letters from people that we don’t even know, just being like, ‘Congratulations on doing this play, this is so exciting. This is a great issue for you guys,’” said student Chloe Kounadis.
The Kansas group is also planning protests at Harvard and Brandeis universities.
from MetroWest Daily News
CEDAR FALLS, IOWA – Last Thursday, Judy Shepard visited the University of Northern Iowa to spoke at the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center about the gay community and the Matthew Shepard Foundation she created in memory of her son. and
Shepard first discussed her victim impact speech she delivered at the sentencing hear of Russell Arthur Henderson, one of the men who plead guilty to killing her son. The trial was held in Laramie, Wyoming on April 15, 1999. Shepard then discussed more about Matthew’s interests and about the horrific news of when she and her husband found out what had happened to their son. She said she was living in Saudi Arabia and on Oct. 8 1998, they received a call that Matthew was in a hospital, with severe injuries, in Fort Collins, Colorado. and After many hours of traveling to get to the hospital, they arrived and she couldn’t even recognize her son because his face was covered in bruises and full of stitches. and and
When Matthew died on Oct.12 1998, Shepard vowed to make something positive come from his death. and She founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which was created to honor Matthew and the foundation seeks to replace hate with understanding, compassion and acceptance. and
Later, Shepard discussed how society interprets homosexuality. and She says you have to educate people about the gay community so they know more about it. and Some people are ignorant about the fact that homosexuality is not a choice but a life style. and She questioned the marriage debate and why it really matters who someone else loves. and Shepard emphasized equality for everyone and paying more taxes, losing your job, not being able to get married and not being able to be in the military because someone is gay is wrong. and
“In society, gay people are seen as the outcast group and our society does not understand the truth about the gay community,” Shepard also stated. and She says the greatest responsibility as United States citizens is to be able to vote and get our voices and opinions heard about gay marriage rights.
Shepard also addressed cyber-bullying. and She feels it is wrong to just suspend a bully when they do something wrong. and She thinks we need to get to the deeper part of it because students can not learn if they fear bullies all the time.
There was also a question and answer session towards the end of her speech. and One of the guys asked if Shepard ever feared for Matthew’s safety when he came out as gay. and She said she did not fear for his safety but he was very opinionated. and Another person asked what Matthew would say if he saw what his mother were doing. and
Shepard boldly responded, “You go girl.”
“I find it very interesting for her to be able to do this because of the Westboro Baptist Church and she sends a message that everyone needs to hear about acceptance,” said Sam Koch, a senior geography major, who found Shepard’s speech very uplifting. and
Chelsea Ecklund, a sophomore undeclared major, agreed with everything Shepard said because she has a lot of gay friends and it is disgusting how people can loath them. and After listening to the speech, it made Ecklund want to get involved in many gay activist clubs like Allied and One Iowa.
Right before Judy Shepard’s speech, many students gathered outside of the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center to counterprotest the WBC’s planned protest, which was not carried out once again. and The counterprotest was very similar to last Monday’s protest. and
“I was very heartened by it.” Shepard said, referring to the UNI student’s counterprotest. and “To have that people show up and show their support is just really great.” and Shepard also had something to say about the WBC headed by Fred Phelps. and
“I feel sad for them that their lives are so steeped in hate that there doesn’t seem to be any kind of compassion in their lives,” Shepard said. and Shepard also does not blame Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney for murdering her son. and She blames society for creating an environment that made murdering Matthew appear to be acceptable.
from The Northern Iowan
WASHINGTON, D.C. – For this accomplishment, President Barack Obama sought maximum publicity.
There was a bill signing at a wooden desk set up in the East Room, with the media invited, followed by a reception for joyous, champagne-sipping supporters and an address to them, again, from the East Room.
Obama was keeping a campaign promise to gays and lesbians by putting his signature on a bill to include violence against homosexuals in federal hate crimes law.
Of several such commitments to gay and lesbian supporters, it’s the first one he’s kept. Other promises are either pending or stalled entirely, proving a source of continued dismay for gay and lesbian advocates who worked to help him get elected.
As a candidate, Obama promised to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that bars homosexuals from serving openly in the military. He pledged to work to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, which limits how states, local and federal bodies can recognize partnerships and determine benefits. He also promised to outlaw job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Nine months into his term, those promises aren’t close to being met.
While clearly pleased by Wednesday’s signing ceremony, which was attended by many members of Congress who came to witness the fruits of a decade of effort, Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said there is still a lot of work to be done.
“We look forward to the days ahead when we will join together again to celebrate full equality and recognition of our community, including in employment, the military and in the full recognition of our families,” Carey said.
The expanded law now also covers crimes motivated by gender identity or disability.
“No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hands of the person they love. No one in America should be forced to look over their shoulder because of who they are or because they live with a disability,” Obama said, referring to Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr., for whom the law is named.
Shepard was a gay Wyoming college student murdered in 1998; Byrd was a black man chained to a pickup truck by three white men and dragged to his death in east Texas that year.
Obama’s relationship with gay activists has been rocky since his election. They objected to the participation of evangelist Rev. Rick Warren in Obama’s inauguration because of Warren’s support for repealing gay marriage in California. Obama responded by having Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the denomination’s first openly gay bishop, participate at another event.
As president, Obama hasn’t taken any concrete steps to urge Congress to overturn the Clinton-era “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. He restated the pledge this month in a speech at the annual dinner of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay civil rights advocacy group.
“I will end ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” Obama said, offering neither a timetable nor specifics on how it would be done. He noted that legislation is pending in the House, and that he is working with the Pentagon and Congress on ending the policy.
“We should not be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve this country,” he said. “We should be celebrating their willingness to show such courage and selflessness on behalf of their fellow citizens, especially when we’re fighting two wars.”
On job security for gays and lesbians, Obama said “we’re pushing hard” for it because “nobody in America should be fired because they’re gay.” He said “it’s not fair. It’s not right. We’re going to put a stop to it.”
Obama also pledged during the campaign to work for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. But administration lawyers did the opposite, defending the law in a court brief. White House aides said the lawyers were only doing their jobs by supporting an existing law.
Obama has expanded some federal benefits to same-sex partners, but not health benefits or pension guarantees. He has allowed State Department employees to include their same-sex partners in certain embassy programs available to opposite-sex spouses.
from The Associated Press
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate cleared a historic hate crimes bill Thursday for President Obama’s signature, approving new federal penalties for attacks on gay men and lesbians.
The legislation, which was attached to the conference report for the bill outlining the Pentagon’s budget, marks the culmination of a years-long fight by civil rights groups to codify the expanded protections.
The measure would extend the current definition of federal hate crimes — which covers attacks motivated by race, color, religion or national origin — to include those based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. It also would make it a federal crime to attack U.S. military personnel because of their service.
The measure was approved, 68 to 29, with a majority of Republicans voting against it. The House passed the same bill Oct. 8, also with most Republicans opposed.
Gay rights groups praised the Senate’s action.
“We look forward to President Obama signing it into law: our nation’s first major piece of civil rights legislation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “Too many in our community have been devastated by hate violence. We now can begin the important steps to erasing hate in our country.”
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who helped ensure that the hate crimes measure was added to the defense bill, said: “I am proud that Congress has come together to show that violence against members of any group because of who they are will not be tolerated in this country.”
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is named for Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student who was murdered in 1998, and Byrd, a black man who was dragged to death behind a pickup truck in Texas in 1998. Shepard’s family founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which helped lobby for the measure. Offered repeatedly by the late senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), the bill had stalled previously in the Senate, and President George W. Bush vowed to veto it if it reached his desk.
But Obama said he plans to sign the measure, a key moment for a president who has been subject to criticism from some gay and lesbian activists who say he has not pushed hard enough for their agenda. Obama has vowed to do so, and said he will repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
Social conservatives said the hate crimes bill would violate the First Amendment, and would be a step toward a larger gay rights agenda they oppose.
“Expanding hate crimes puts America in lock step with the stated agenda of homosexual activists who will turn next to the so-called Employment Non-Discrimination Act, followed by the repeal of the ban on homosexuality in the military and then the Defense of Marriage Act,” the Family Research Council warned on its Web site.
Religious groups have also complained that the measure could criminalize the act of criticizing or preaching against homosexuality, but the bill’s backers and the administration contend that is a misinterpretation of the legislation.
Separately, congressional Republicans objected to the process used to move the bill, saying that Democrats attached the hate crimes language to the defense authorization measure as a ploy to dare them to vote against it.
“It’s a shame that this piece of legislation was added to a bill that’s supposed to be about supporting our troops,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.).
The Defense measure outlines a $680 billion budget for the Pentagon in fiscal 2010, including $130 billion for ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
from The Washington Post
WASHINGTON – Legislation to punish hate crimes became a flashpoint on Capitol Hill on Thursday, as a measure expanding the definition of such crimes was attached to the bill outlining the Defense Department budget and approved by the House over the strong objections of Republicans.
House and Senate negotiators agreed earlier this week to attach the hate-crimes provision to the conference report for the $680 billion Defense Department authorization bill. The combined bill passed the House on Thursday, 281 to 146, with 131 Republicans and 15 Democrats in opposition. The measure must pass the Senate, in a vote that could come as early as next week, before it can head to President Obama’s desk for his signature.
Congressional Republicans complained that appending the hate crimes provision to a bill laying out the Pentagon’s budget for the coming year was an abuse of the legislative process and made U.S. troops “political pawns” in an unrelated social debate.
The provision would broaden the current definition of federal hate crimes to include attacks based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. It would also create a new federal crime to cover attacks against U.S. military personnel because of their service.
“This is radical social policy that … is being put on the defense authorization bill, on the backs of our soldiers, because they probably can’t pass it on its own,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).
The House passed the hate-crimes measure as a stand-alone bill in April, with 18 Republicans joining 231 Democrats in support. But it stalled in the Senate. At the strong urging of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and fellow supporters from the House, the measure was attached to the Defense legislation — considered a must-pass bill.
Pelosi said Thursday that this week’s timing of the hate-crimes vote was appropriate.
“Monday is the 11th anniversary of the murder of Matthew Shepard, and we want in the same week of that tragic event to call the public’s attention once again to people acting upon their hatred in a violent way,” Pelosi said, referring to the infamous 1998 murder of a gay University of Wyoming student.
Civil-rights groups welcomed Thursday’s House action.
“We’re very pleased by this and look forward to it landing on the president’s desk,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
from The Washington Post