President Obama is set to sign into law the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act this Wednesday at 4:45 p.m in a White House event. The bill represents the first major piece of federal legislation dealing with the LGBT community ever signed by a president.
The bill signing will likely jumpstart another round of concerns about the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to federal hate crimes protection (a 1969 civil rights law) as well as complaints that the hate crimes bill is too little, too late on an LGBT agenda that has been ignored by the president.
It is important for journalists, bloggers, columnists and media analysts to remember the important role they play in giving citizens the information they need to understand the full impact of the bill and the effect the bill will have in their communities and across the country.
A few suggestions for covering the signing:
– While this is the first major piece of civil rights legislation for gays and lesbians, it is significant because it also includes protection for transgender individuals. That portion of the law has gotten little attention.
– There are good, ideological reasons to oppose hate crime bills generally. But as Andrew Sullivan has pointed out–he opposes them as a matter of policy–it is quite another thing to oppose them in this instance while staying quiet about them generally. Ask opponents of this hate crime bill whether they oppose hate crime bills generally.
– Religious advocates support the bill. Religious advocates oppose the bill. Get voices from all sides of the spectrum. Only a small number of religious people believe this bill threatens free speech rights, so put that opposition in context.
– Do people feel safer now that the hate crime bill has been passed? Should they feel safer? Those are good questions to ask law enforcement and activists.
– 31 states and the District of Columbia already provide hate crime enhancement based on sexual orientation, and 12 (plus D.C.) include gender identity in their hate crimes definitions. How have those laws changed things for people in those states?
For more resources, journalists can turn to
– the Matthew Shepard Foundation
– the FBI’s statistics on hate crimes
– the American Civil Liberties Union has been outspoken in support of LGBT rights but raised concerns about the hate crimes bill.
– Third Way offers an approach on hate crimes that differs from some on the religious right
– the National Center for Transgender Equality can speak to the concerns of the transgender community