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Remarks in Support of Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act

Mr. President, today I rise in support of strengthening our federal hate crimes laws to include crimes motivated by a victim's sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or whether the victim has a disability.  By passing the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act we will take a long-overdue step toward ensuring that our law enforcement officials have the resources they need to prevent and properly prosecute some of the most toxic and destructive violent crimes we face.

I would also like to thank my colleagues who have worked tirelessly to see this important legislation enacted into law.  For the better part of the last decade, Senator Kennedy, along with Senators Leahy, Collins and Snowe, have shown leadership on this issue even when the odds of success were small.  Their diligence is one of the reasons this legislation today enjoys the support of more than 300 law enforcement, civil rights, civic and religious organizations.  As a new member of the Senate, I am proud to join them this year as an original cosponsor of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act and hope my colleagues will join me to pass this amendment.

In 1998, Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old college student, was beaten and murdered because he was gay.  The brutality of this crime captured the attention of the nation.  It was an attack not just on Matthew and his family, but on an entire community.  It was an attack that sent a message of hate and intolerance to LGBT youth and their families and instilled in countless young Americans a sense of fear simply because of their sexual orientation.

Despite this, Matthew's murderers were not charged with a hate crime because no such law exists in Wyoming or on the federal level. 

It is impossible to know for certain the full effect of crimes motivated by hate on the communities they target.  What is certain is that hate crimes rob the members of these communities of a sense of security.  And the impact is real.  Among LGBT youth in this country, the suicide rate is four times higher than their straight peers, as many struggle to find their place in their families and communities.  While reducing bigotry and increasing tolerance will require a comprehensive effort that will take time, addressing our out-dated hate crimes law is one important component.   

As Governor, I was proud to sign legislation that expanded New Hampshire's hate crimes law to include sexual orientation.  Unfortunately, many states still lack such laws, which is why this bill is so critical.  By expanding the definition of hate crimes and by easing access to resources for local and federal law enforcement officials to prosecute these crimes, we can hopefully help prevent these crimes and send a message that hate and bigotry in any form have no place in our society.          

Thank you, Mr. President.  I yield the floor.