The Matthew Shepard hate crimes bill is now law

activism, lgbt, politics, video 1 Comment »

Matthew ShepardPresident Obama today signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act which was apart of the 2010 Defense Authorization bill. The new legislation adds sexual orientation, gender, disability, or gender identity to existing hate crimes laws.

Joe Solomnese of HRC and Judy Shepard respond to the signing

“This law honors our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters whose lives were cut short because of hate,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.  “Today’s signing of the first major piece of civil rights legislation to protect LGBT Americans represents a historic milestone in the inevitable march towards equality.  Although this is a major step in fighting the scourge of hate violence, it is not the end of the road.  As a community, we will continue to dedicate ourselves to changing not only laws but also hearts and minds.  We know that hate crimes not only harm individuals, but they terrorize entire communities.  After more than a decade of advocacy, local police and sheriffs’ departments now have the full resources of the Justice Department available to them.”

“We applaud President Obama for signing this bill into law and thank the leadership and our allies in the House and Senate.   We also will always remember the tireless efforts of Senator Edward Kennedy on this issue.  Senator Kennedy once said that this legislation sends ‘a message about freedom and equality that will resonate around the world.’   This marks the first time that we as a nation have explicitly protected the LGBT community in the law.  And this law sends a loud message that perpetrators of hate violence against anyone will be brought to justice,” said Solmonese.

“We 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,” said Judy Shepard, executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation.  “But each of us can and must do much more to ensure true equality for all Americans.”

A more formal ceremony is planned for later today.

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Secretary of the Army John McHugh says Army can handle repeal of DADT

lgbt, politics No Comments »

Army Secretary John McHughSecretary of the Army John McHugh said in an interview with the Army Times that the Army could handle a repeal of the controversial Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy without major disruption, but refused to offer his personal views on the issue. From the Army Times:

McHugh finds himself at the center of debate over Obama’s pledge to repeal the law banning open service by homosexuals.

In the interview, McHugh carefully avoided offering his personal views on the issue, saying his job now is to provide input to Obama on how to make the change and to talk with members of Congress about the issue.

Selling the idea to Congress, which has the final say, could depend on exactly what the administration tries to do in terms of the timing of repeal and how it is applied, McHugh said.

It’s possible, for example, that homosexuals could be allowed into some occupations or units but barred from others, McHugh said, stressing that he was not aware of any such plans but only discussing how the issue might play out.

“I don’t want to prejudge the situation,” he said. “I am saying if he did that, it would be my job to explain it when the appropriate time comes.”

When asked specifically if lifting the gay ban would seriously disrupt the military, as predicted by those who oppose repeal, McHugh said there is no reason to think major turmoil would ensue.

“Anytime you have a broad-based policy change, there are challenges to that,” he said. “The Army has a big history of taking on similar issues, [with] predictions of doom and gloom that did not play out,” he said.

During hearings on DADT back in 2008, McHugh, who then served as a Republican congressman from New York, appeared disappointed with the DoD’s failure to review the policy…

“I share the chairlady’s [Rep. Susan Davis] disappointment that thus far the services, as a whole, have not agreed to step forward. I don’t see as an individual member how I fully and fairly consider this question and more importantly the issue of changing this question without the input of those in the active military who have the heavy responsibility of commanding our forces in time of war. I would hope and encourage both the Department of Defense and the various services to reconsider the reluctance that they have displayed to this point.”

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Oscar-winning director Paul Haggis quits Scientology over Prop 8

entertainment, lgbt, religion, video No Comments »

Director Paul HaggisPaul Haggis, who directed 2006′s Oscar winner “Crash” has quit Scientology after 35 years over the church’s position on gays and lesbians and Proposition 8. In a letter to Tom Davis, who is spokesman for Scientology’s head David Miscavige, Haggis gives his reasons for leaving the often maligned and ridiculed church.

As you know, for ten months now I have been writing to ask you to make a public statement denouncing the actions of the Church of Scientology of San Diego. Their public sponsorship of Proposition 8, a hate-filled legislation that succeeded in taking away the civil rights of gay and lesbian citizens of California – rights that were granted them by the Supreme Court of our state – shames us.

I called and wrote and implored you, as the official spokesman of the church, to condemn their actions. I told you I could not, in good conscience, be a member of an organization where gay-bashing was tolerated.

In that first conversation, back at the end of October of last year, you told me you were horrified, that you would get to the bottom of it and “heads would roll.” You promised action. Ten months passed. No action was forthcoming. The best you offered was a weak and carefully worded press release, which praised the church’s human rights record and took no responsibility. Even that, you decided not to publish.

The church’s refusal to denounce the actions of these bigots, hypocrites and homophobes is cowardly. I can think of no other word. Silence is consent, Tommy. I refuse to consent.

I joined the Church of Scientology thirty-five years ago. During my twenties and early thirties I studied and received a great deal of counseling. While I have not been an active member for many years, I found much of what I learned to be very helpful, and I still apply it in my daily life. I have never pretended to be the best Scientologist, but I openly and vigorously defended the church whenever it was criticized, as I railed against the kind of intolerance that I believed was directed against it. I had my disagreements, but I dealt with them internally. I saw the organization – with all its warts, growing pains and problems – as an underdog. And I have always had a thing for underdogs.

But I reached a point several weeks ago where I no longer knew what to think. You had allowed our name to be allied with the worst elements of the Christian Right. In order to contain a potential “PR flap” you allowed our sponsorship of Proposition 8 to stand. Despite all the church’s words about promoting freedom and human rights, its name is now in the public record alongside those who promote bigotry and intolerance, homophobia and fear.

Tom Davis also appeared on ABC’s Nightine last week, where he stormed out of an interview with Martin Bashir when questioned about Xenu the galactic overlord and souls living in volcanos. Clip below:

And you thought the Mormon church was cooky.

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Senate passes hate crimes bill 68-29! Next stop, President Obama’s desk.

activism, lgbt, politics, religion, video 3 Comments »

Hate Crimes passes SenateIn a historic vote today the Senate passed the The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act by an easy margin 68-29, and joins the House of Representatives in sending the historic legislation to President Obama’s desk.

The measure, attached to an essential military-spending bill, broadens the definition of federal hate crimes to include those committed because of a victim’s gender or gender identity, sexual orientation or disability. It gives them the same federal safeguards already afforded to people who are victims of violent crimes because of their race, color, religion or national origin.

Supporters of the legislation argued that it would deter those tempted to attack people out of bigotry, and that extra protections for those victimized because of their sexuality were needed because such crimes have been on the rise.

Opponents argued to no avail that the new measure was unnecessary in view of existing laws and might interfere with local law enforcement agencies. Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, said he agreed that hate crimes were terrible. “That’s why they are already illegal,” he said, asserting that the new law was a dangerous, even “Orwellian” step toward “thought crime.”

Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard for whom the bill is named responded to the news…

“Dennis and I are extremely proud of the Senate for once again passing this historic measure of protection for victims of these brutal crimes,” said Judy Shepard, president of the Matthew Shepard Foundation Board. “Knowing that the president will sign it, unlike his predecessor, has made all the hard work this year to pass it worthwhile. Hate crimes continue to affect far too many Americans who are simply trying to live their lives honestly, and they need to know that their government will protect them from violence, and provide appropriate justice for victims and their families.”

Senator Fiengold was the only Democrat who voted against the bill, most likely because he disagreed with some aspect of the military spending and not because of hate crimes. The Nays in the roll call are the usual suspects and appear below:

Alexander (R-TN)
Barrasso (R-WY)
Bennett (R-UT)
Brownback (R-KS)
Bunning (R-KY)
Burr (R-NC)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Coburn (R-OK)
Cochran (R-MS)
Corker (R-TN)
Crapo (R-ID)
DeMint (R-SC)
Enzi (R-WY)
Feingold (D-WI)
Graham (R-SC)
Grassley (R-IA)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Isakson (R-GA)
Johanns (R-NE)
Kyl (R-AZ)
LeMieux (R-FL)
McConnell (R-KY)
Risch (R-ID)
Roberts (R-KS)
Sessions (R-AL)
Shelby (R-AL)
Thune (R-SD)
Vitter (R-LA)
Wicker (R-MS)
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