Last Thursday, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act was approved by the Senate 68-29. The long-awaited legislation makes it a federal crime to assault people based on gender, sexual orientation, disability, and gender identity, and allows for added charges and harsher jail sentences for hate crime perpetrators. Civil rights and LGBT groups rejoice in the passage of this law: ”The day is within sight when lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will benefit from updating our nation’s hate crimes laws and giving local law enforcement the tools they need to combat hate violence,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
What this Act means for women everywhere, regardless of sexual orientation, is that gender will soon be protected under federal hate crime prevention laws. As the American Association of University Women blog notes: ”While it is important to recognize that not all crimes against women are hate crimes, it is true that some crimes against women are committed with hatred against women as a motivation.” Recent examples of misogynist violence widely covered in the media remain in our minds as we anticipate President Obama’s signing of the law: the Amish schoolhouse massacre in 2006, in which only little girls were slain, and the Bridgeville gym shooting of August 2009, which left three women dead and numerous others injured.