Obama signs hate crimes bill into law

Today, President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act, critical legislation that strengthens existing U.S. laws by extending federal hate crime protection in cases where the victim was targeted because of their sexual orientation, gender, disability, or gender identity. The new law - which the U.S. Attorney General Holder called a "civil rights issue that is clearly a priority" - will also permit federal authorities to assist local governments in hate crime investigations and increase their capacity through training programs.

On June 7 2009, in Texas, three white men chained an African-American named James Byrd, Jr., to a pick-up truck and dragged him to his death; in the early hours of Oct. 7, two men in Wyoming beat up gay teenager Matthew Shepard and left him to die while tied to a fence. These killings intensified pressure for tougher federal hate crimes legislation.

When the bill won final congressional approval last week, Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese called the hate crimes measure "our nation's first major piece of civil rights legislation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people."

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