November 2009: The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is Now Law - So What's Next?


Issue 38: November 2009

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is Now Law - So What's Next? 




We are at a historic moment for the LGBT community: for the first time ever, a federal law includes both sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories. Now that the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is law federal authorities have the authority and resources to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated crimes, which encourages partnerships between state and federal law enforcement officials to more effectively address hate violence. The law also provides limited authority for federal investigations and prosecutions when local authorities are unwilling or unable to act. 

PFLAG continues to celebrate this overdue victory, and we encourage every chapter to consider developing a program or organizing an activity to support those who have been affected by bias-motivated crimes in your local community:

  • Devote a meeting to discussing bias-motivated crimes. Spend some time discussing bias-motivated crimes and the impact they have on your local LGBT community. Consider organizing a panel discussion that includes LGBT and non-LGBT community organizations and individuals interested in addressing the problem of targeted hate violence. Think of ways you can continue this dialogue in productive and supportive ways to help counter such violence within the community.
  • Develop support resources. You can share knowledge and information by developing factsheets similar to that of the New York City Anti-Violence Project. By providing basic advice and support resources for those affected by hate violence. For more ideas on developing such resources, reach out to your PFLAG field coordinator.
  • Hold a memorialDevote a day to remember those community members lost or affected by hate violence in your community. Use such a day to establish or strengthen partnerships with local transgender organizations to help organize and support the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Build bridges with other non-LGBT communities who are also targeted by hate violence, including people of color, women’s groups, the disabled, and faith organizations. Make a commitment to support each other in efforts to address such bias-motivated crimes in your community.


Across the country, local law enforcement agencies and other concerned community members are looking to PFLAG chapters just like yours to provide guidance regarding the issue of LGBT bias-motivated crimes. Many chapters have successfully offered trainings and created resources to help local law officials better respond to bias-motivated crimes targeting LGBT individuals and their loved ones. Make sure your chapter members understand and can share the basics about the new law, so you can begin to educate your community.

  • Be familiar with the law. Who does the new law protect? How can victims and their families get help? What is the role of local and federal law enforcement? The answers to these and other fundamental questions about the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act will be key to establishing your PFLAG chapter as a local source of information and education. Make sure all chapter members understand the new law, why it is so important, and how it helps protect communities. Learn more about the law on the Anti-Defamation League website.

  • Create educational resources. After you become more familiar with the law and how it can help your community, work with your local chapter on developing new resources that can better educate your members on bias-motivated crimes and the role of the community in preventing and responding to such violence through education via trainings and community events. For ideas on where to start, contact your PFLAG field coordinator or PFLAG’s policy manager to learn best practices from other chapters. PFLAG staff can also point you to the best existing resources developed by the Anti-Violence Project, such as their recent report on Hate Violence Against LGBT People in the US.

  • Educate community members. Whether you’re at work, attending a neighborhood event, or meeting with members of your faith community, find ways to share your knowledge of LGBT bias-motivated crimes, as well as strategies to address and prevent such violence. By opening the conversation about this issue, you can help create a safe space for people to  better understand the climate of the community and ways to foster a more welcoming and supportive environment for all.




By passing and signing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, both Congress and the President have sent a strong message of unity in eradicating hate crimes. Now we have the opportunity to deliver this strong message to our local communities by demanding more preventive measures to stop hate-motivated crimes from occurring. 

In June 2009, the local police raided a bar in Fort Worth, Texas. Members of the Fort Worth community and the larger LGBT movement questioned the motives for targeting the bar and using excessive force to carry out the investigation. This community pressure led Fort Worth officials to appoint a task force to review the incident. This group recommended and law enforcement officials implemented a LGBT liaison in the police department to help address police brutality and bias-motivated crimes. 

Citizen involvement has also put the spotlight on cases in Atlanta and Brooklyn, N.Y., where similar incidences of police brutality against LGBT people has been addressed through community advocacy.  These real-world examples prove that your PFLAG chapter has the power to advocate and prevent bias-motivated crimes in your community.

  • Assemble a strong and diverse team. You will be better prepared to address community violence with your local law enforcement officials if you have partnered with community advocates from a variety of issue areas, including PFLAG members,  faith leaders, business owners, and social justice organizations. Demonstrating that community support cuts across all demographics in your area will earn you credibility and influence.

  • Share your story. When reaching out to local law enforcement officials, it’s important to bring your stories about how hate violence targeting the LGBT community has affected you and your family. Personal stories and examples of local hate violence are far more effective at influencing a positive decision or action than academic statistics and generic examples. Moreover, personal stories—not statistics—are often what inspire action. Personal stories help save lives by changing hearts and minds.

  • Be clear on what you want. When you meet with local law enforcement to develop strategies to prevent hate violence, make sure you have a clear goal in mind, and be ready and willing to ask for what you want.
    • Do you want local police to appoint a community liaison to their department, as in the Fort Worth community? 
    • If your community already has a LGBT police liaison, would you like more funding for LGBT cultural competency trainings to help educate law enforcement personnel?

    • If local law enforcement officials are supportive of the LGBT community, do you want to work with them on hosting a public forum addressing community violence and brainstorm strategies on how to overcome such problems?

There are many ways to advocate on prevention strategies addressing community violence. The bottom line is that you should be prepared and be realistic in what you are asking for – if you would like more support on how to engage in this kind of advocacy, be sure to contact PFLAG’s policy team.   

Our LGBT loved ones have waited too long for this important legislation to become law. Now that we have federal statute on our side, we need to re-focus our energy on making sure that our local law enforcement communities have the knowledge, skills, and resources to effectively implement and enforce the new law.

Please share your thoughts, ideas, successes, and comments with us on our blog!

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