A hate crime (sometimes termed a “bias crime”) is defined by law as a crime, usually an assault or a property crime like vandalism or graffiti, where the offender targets his or her victim specifically due to one or more personal characteristics such as race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or gender expression.

Matthew Shepard became the victim of one of the most notorious anti-gay hate crimes in the nation’s history, and his parents, Judy and Dennis, dedicated their lives to strengthening hate crimes law and raising awareness of the violence the LGBTQ+ community faced.

Since our formation, the Foundation has helped pioneer the country’s first federal hate crimes legislation with the passing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009 and provided our unique Hate Crimes Prevention Training to over 1,400 law enforcement officers and prosecutors in 45 cities since May 2017.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act

Obama passing prevention act

In October 2009, Judy and Dennis Shepard joined President Barack Obama as he signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law. For the first time, a federal hate crime statute expanded the protected classes to include a victim’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. Prior to 2009, federal hate crimes law only included a victim’s race, color, gender, religion, or national origin.

Ten years after its signing, 60 convictions have been made under the Shepard-Byrd Act, bringing justice to dozens of victims in Matt’s name. Although the passing of the Act was a historic victory, it is merely one milestone of the many necessary to comprehensively address hate crimes. Reporting of these crimes by law enforcement agencies is still only voluntary, and dozens of them fail to report every year. There is also still a significant lack of inclusive hate crimes laws at the state level, where the vast majority of such crimes are prosecuted.