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Judy Shepard Is Not Giving Up

Judy Shepard Is Not Giving Up

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Judy tells us why Congress dropped the Matthew Shepard Act, what her next step will be, and how the 10-year anniversary of Matt's murder will not pass quietly.

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Why is the Matthew Shepard Act a hard sell? You'd think a bill designed to protect minorities from violence would sail through Congress. Well, last week we discovered that's not the case, as House leaders dropped the legislation from a defense bill, saying it didn't have the votes to pass.

A little background: Our president has long vowed to veto the Matthew Shepard Act, legislation that would have protected LGBT people as well as disabled people from hate crimes. So to get around Bush, the Senate attached the bill to a military spending measure the president would have had difficulty saying no to. It passed the Senate, but when it got to the House -- which had previously passed a similar, stand-alone hate-crimes bill that is now in limbo -- it became clear that the newer bill didn't have the support it needed. Many liberal Democrats would have voted against the bill since it authorized war spending, and many conservative Republicans would have voted no because they don't want the current hate-crimes law changed (appeasing their constituencies, they claim). So the hate-crimes provision was stripped from the defense bill.

If it ever passes, the Matthew Shepard Act would give federal authorities greater leeway to participate in hate-crime investigations and step in if local authorities are unwilling or unable to act. The bill's death was a blow to Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, who sponsored the act, and Judy Shepard, mother of the slain gay man for whom the bill is named. Contacting The Advocate from outside the country, Judy expressed both sadness and optimism.

Of course you're disappointed. Are you surprised about what happened with the bill? You know, I am. I thought that once it went through the Senate, once it was attached to the defense bill, that it would not come out. In conference we knew [its removal] was a possibility because of the division in the House over the defense bill at large -- certain people, and other people not wanting the hate-crime bill no matter where it appears. So we knew there would be a discussion, but it never crossed my mind once that it would be yanked.

What was the thinking when it was attached to the defense bill? I understood why they wanted to do it. Leaving it as a stand-alone bill like the House did would leave it too vulnerable. We were worried we would lose transgender if we left it as a stand-alone. I understood the philosophy there. If any bill were going to make it to the president's desk by the end of '07, it was going to be the one [attached to the defense bill]. I also understand the House's logic. They're saying, "We passed with a healthy majority as a stand-alone. We did what we were supposed to do." And now to bring it back as something totally different, I can see why that would make a difficult path for them.

And the president has made it clear that he's going to veto it. Do you think that's just to appease his base? I'm sort of torn there as well. I know that as the governor of Texas, he was not in favor of hate-crime legislation in particular. I did not view it as an empty threat, but I did think that common sense would take over at some point in time. That's a moot point now, unless we get it in '08, but I actually thought [that Bush reluctantly signing the bill] was a bigger possibility than the bill being thrown out altogether.

Are you hopeful that if we elect a Democratic president next year the bill will pass? I am, but I'm actually hoping that we can get this done in '08 [before the election] without having to reeducate new congressmen and senators about what this hate-crime bill means. I would really like to get this taken care of before we lose all the people we have in favor of the bill. I think starting completely over would really not be the greatest thing.

Have you spoken to Ted Kennedy? I have, though not since it got yanked. I'm out of the country, but I know he was very upset, as well as Senator [Carl] Levin and Senator [Gordon] Smith. It was such a huge disappointment for all of us. We were so close, so close.

What's the next move? The speaker of the House (Nancy Pelosi) seems to be equally committed to getting the hate-crime bill done. She, or someone speaking for her, is saying they hope to reintroduce it early in '08. Since it's an election year, I think it makes it a little more volatile, though with the hate-crime bill, poll after poll shows that the American people want this to pass. I don't understand what the big deal is to Congress when they say, "Well, our constituents don't want this to pass." We know that, by and large, a huge amount, 75% or more, want this to happen.

Next year marks the 10th anniversary of Matthew's death. What does the Matthew Shepard Foundation have planned? We have quite a lot of things that are under discussion, but we don't have any firm plans yet. There will be a lot of messaging, especially on the website. We are expecting a lot of different things next year. Thinking back 10 years, it's hard to believe the hate-crime bill is still not passed. Why not? We'll be talking about that in the year to come.

To learn more about the Matthew Shepard Act, visit The Matthew Shepard Foundation, which contains information on the foundation's efforts, including its Erase the Hate campaign.

Nbroverman
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Neal Broverman

Neal Broverman is the Editorial Director, Print of Pride Media, publishers of The Advocate, Out, Out Traveler, and Plus, spending more than 20 years in journalism. He indulges his interest in transportation and urban planning with regular contributions to Los Angeles magazine, and his work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. He lives in the City of Angels with his husband, children, and their chiweenie.
Neal Broverman is the Editorial Director, Print of Pride Media, publishers of The Advocate, Out, Out Traveler, and Plus, spending more than 20 years in journalism. He indulges his interest in transportation and urban planning with regular contributions to Los Angeles magazine, and his work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. He lives in the City of Angels with his husband, children, and their chiweenie.