Speech to the 2008 HRC Dinner in Houston

By Judy Shepard
Annual HRC dinner
Huston, TX
April 16, 2008

A quote from the speech:

I remember having a discussion with him in the summer of ’98 and he was talking about the marriage initiative in Hawaii, and he said, “Do you think that we will ever be allowed to marry?” And I said, “Not in my lifetime, but I’m sure in your lifetime it will happen. Things are changing very quickly.” Ironically it turned out to be in my lifetime and not his.

Statement on the Passage of LGBT Hate Crimes Legislation

by Judy Shepard
October 28, 2009

When Dennis and I started calling 10 years ago for federal action to prevent and properly prosecute hate crimes against gay, lesbian and transgendered Americans, we never imagined it would take this long.

The legislation went through so many versions and so many votes that we had to constantly keep our hopes in check to keep from getting discouraged. But with President Obama’s support and the continually growing bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate lining up behind the bill this year, it became clear that 2009 was the year it would finally happen.

We are incredibly grateful to Congress and the president for taking this step forward on behalf of hate crime victims and their families, especially given the continuing attacks on people simply for living their lives openly and honestly. But each of us can and must do much more to ensure true equality for all Americans.

Campaigning for hate-crimes legislation may be what I am known best for, but our family and the Matthew Shepard Foundation will continue to push for true equality for every American until the work is complete. Too many people face the threat of losing their jobs or their homes due to their sexual orientation. Too many same-sex couples lack legal protections for their property, their health care decisions, and their children. Too many devoted and dedicated servicemembers are being turned away by our armed forces.

I hope, as you reflect on the success of the hate crime prevention bill, that you also take the extra step of contacting your state and federal elected officials in support of full equality for all citizens, regardless of difference.

Be open about who you are and who you love. Dispel stereotypes and assumptions. Tell your stories. And support the continued work of the Matthew Shepard Foundation to “Replace Hate with Understanding, Compassion, and Acceptance.”

Thanks to all who helped us achieve this success today. You are making a difference.

Judy Shepard
President, Board of Directors, Matthew Shepard Foundation

Remarks by the President at Reception Commemorating the Enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act

By Barack Obama
East Room
October 28, 2009

5:45 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much, everybody. Thank you so much, and welcome to the White House.

There are several people here that I want to just make mention of because they helped to make today possible. We’ve got Attorney General Eric Holder. (Applause.) A champion of this legislation, and a great Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. (Applause.) My dear friend, senior Senator from the great state of Illinois, Dick Durbin. (Applause.) The outstanding Chairman of Armed Services, Carl Levin. (Applause.) Senator Arlen Specter. (Applause.) Chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the House, Representative John Conyers. (Applause.) Representative Barney Frank. (Applause.) Representative Tammy Baldwin. (Applause.) Representative Jerry Nadler. (Applause.) Representative Jared Polis. (Applause.) All the members of Congress who are here today, we thank you.

Mr. David Bohnett and Mr. Tom Gregory and the David Bohnett Foundation — they are partners for this reception. Thank you so much, guys, for helping to host this. (Applause.)

And finally, and most importantly, because these were really the spearheads of this effort — Denis, Judy, and Logan Shepard. (Applause.) As well as Betty Byrd Boatner and Louvon Harris — sisters of James Byrd, Jr. (Applause.)

To all the activists, all the organizers, all the people who helped make this day happen, thank you for your years of advocacy and activism, pushing and protesting that made this victory possible.

You know, as a nation we’ve come far on the journey towards a more perfect union. And today, we’ve taken another step forward. This afternoon, I signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. (Applause.)

This is the culmination of a struggle that has lasted more than a decade. Time and again, we faced opposition. Time and again, the measure was defeated or delayed. Time and again we’ve been reminded of the difficulty of building a nation in which we’re all free to live and love as we see fit. But the cause endured and the struggle continued, waged by the family of Matthew Shepard, by the family of James Byrd, by folks who held vigils and led marches, by those who rallied and organized and refused to give up, by the late Senator Ted Kennedy who fought so hard for this legislation — (applause) — and all who toiled for years to reach this day.

You understood that we must stand against crimes that are meant not only to break bones, but to break spirits — not only to inflict harm, but to instill fear. You understand that the rights afforded every citizen under our Constitution mean nothing if we do not protect those rights — both from unjust laws and violent acts. And you understand how necessary this law continues to be.

In the most recent year for which we have data, the FBI reported roughly 7,600 hate crimes in this country. Over the past 10 years, there were more than 12,000 reported hate crimes based on sexual orientation alone. And we will never know how many incidents were never reported at all.

And that’s why, through this law, we will strengthen the protections against crimes based on the color of your skin, the faith in your heart, or the place of your birth. We will finally add federal protections against crimes based on gender, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation. (Applause.) And prosecutors will have new tools to work with states in order to prosecute to the fullest those who would perpetrate such crimes. Because no one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hands of the person they love. No one in America should be forced to look over their shoulder because of who they are or because they live with a disability.

At root, this isn’t just about our laws; this is about who we are as a people. This is about whether we value one another — whether we embrace our differences, rather than allowing them to become a source of animus. It’s hard for any of us to imagine the mind-set of someone who would kidnap a young man and beat him to within an inch of his life, tie him to a fence, and leave him for dead. It’s hard for any of us to imagine the twisted mentality of those who’d offer a neighbor a ride home, attack him, chain him to the back of a truck, and drag him for miles until he finally died.

But we sense where such cruelty begins: the moment we fail to see in another our common humanity — the very moment when we fail to recognize in a person the same fears and hopes, the same passions and imperfections, the same dreams that we all share.

We have for centuries strived to live up to our founding ideal, of a nation where all are free and equal and able to pursue their own version of happiness. Through conflict and tumult, through the morass of hatred and prejudice, through periods of division and discord we have endured and grown stronger and fairer and freer. And at every turn, we’ve made progress not only by changing laws but by changing hearts, by our willingness to walk in another’s shoes, by our capacity to love and accept even in the face of rage and bigotry.

In April of 1968, just one week after the assassination of Martin Luther King, as our nation mourned in grief and shuddered in anger, President Lyndon Johnson signed landmark civil rights legislation. This was the first time we enshrined into law federal protections against crimes motivated by religious or racial hatred — the law on which we build today.

As he signed his name, at a difficult moment for our country, President Johnson said that through this law “the bells of freedom ring out a little louder.” That is the promise of America. Over the sounds of hatred and chaos, over the din of grief and anger, we can still hear those ideals — even when they are faint, even when some would try to drown them out. At our best we seek to make sure those ideals can be heard and felt by Americans everywhere. And that work did not end in 1968. It certainly does not end today. But because of the efforts of the folks in this room — particularly those family members who are standing behind me — we can be proud that that bell rings even louder now and each day grows louder still.

So thank you very much. God bless you and God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

5:53 P.M. EDT

Interview With Chris Bull of the Advocate

by Bill Clinton
Air Force One
En route to: Luncheon for the DNC Gay/Lesbian Leadership Council
September 27, 2000

Hate Crimes Legislation

Mr. Bull. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. I thought we’d jump ahead in the questions a little bit, because I noticed this morning at the press briefing you talked about the hate crimes legislation and opposition to including sexual orientation in it.

There was the front page of the Washington Post today, a man walks into a gay bar in Virginia and starts shooting. With all the evidence about this particular aspect of hate crimes, why is there still so much opposition in Congress?

The President. First, let’s talk about the good news here. There’s 57 votes for it in the Senate, and about 240 votes for it in the House. Virtually all the Democrats, but four or five of them, are for it. And we’ve got 41 Republicans on a motion to instruct the conferees to leave it in the defense bill. So there’s no question that we now have a majority for it.

How would it not be included in? The leadership of the Congress and the leadership of the Republican Party is still well to the right of the country on this issue. Same thing in Texas, you know, they could have had a hate crimes bill after James Byrd was killed, if Governor Bush had just lifted a finger for it. But he was unwilling to take on the rightwing in his own party, and so it died.

And it’s the same thing in Washington. If the leaders of the House and the Senate can be persuaded to instruct their conferees to follow the will of the majority, it will prevail. If it doesn’t prevail, it’s because the leadership of the Congress and the leadership of the Republicans is still to the right of the country on the issue.

Matthew Shepard

Mr. Bull. As you may remember, the murder of Matthew Shepard, the student in Wyoming—-

The President. I remember it vividly.

Mr. Bull. —-really changed the way Americans see hate crimes against gay people. What was your initial reaction to that murder?

The President. Well, I think it was particularly horrifying and heartbreaking because he was so young and so small and the way they killed him was so graphic. But it did galvanize the country. You know, the American people are fundamentally decent. But like human beings everywhere, since the dawn of time, they’re afraid of something that’s profoundly different from the life they know and the experiences they’ve had.

Usually, the way civilization progresses is something happens that forces people to see things in a different way, in a more human way. And that’s what Matthew Shepard’s death did. I think the fact that his parents, who are obviously not leftwing activists, just mainstream, hardworking Americans, became advocates for the hate crimes legislation and the fact that that police commissioner there, O’Malley, was so eloquent in saying that the experience of dealing with Matthew’s death and dealing with his family and his friends had changed his life, as well as his attitudes.

I think those three people deserve an enormous amount of credit for the way the country has moved.

Mr. Bull. With the depth of the problem that you’ve just described, people’s psychological response to difference, is hate crimes legislation really the best way to deal with the problem? Does it really get at the roots of it?

The President. Well, I think it’s just one piece of it. I think it’s really important to pass ENDA, and there are big majorities for ENDA in the country, too. And it hasn’t passed for the same reason.

The other thing I think that’s important–and ENDA would really feed into this–is that we just need people, all the American people, to have the opportunity to interact on a human level, in the workplace, in social settings, with gays and lesbians and know that they’re interacting with them. Personal contact, it may sound old-fashioned and naive–it’s not a substitute for laws–but it will change attitudes.

I’ll never forget in the administration’s early debate over gays in the military, there was a national poll published which showed that Americans, who knew a gay person and knew they knew a gay person, were 2-1 in favor of changing the policy. So if you believe that most people have goodness in them and will, other things being equal, treat their fellow human beings in a decent and fair way, then you have to overcome ignorance and fear. And it takes time, and it takes contact.

President’s Background on Gay Rights

Mr. Bull. One of the things for which your administration will be remembered is, early on, you talked a lot about gay people in a way that Americans hadn’t heard from that level of government, which is in terms of tolerance, inclusiveness, a place at the table, having no one to waste. How did you come across that approach to including gay people in, sort of, the rhetoric of the civil rights movement?

The President. Personal contact. In 1977, when I was attorney general, there was an attempt to make–we had just adopted a new criminal code, and the criminal code had gotten rid of all the status offenses, including homosexuality. I imagine those old laws are still on the books in some States.

And one of our legislators went home, and he lived in a very conservative district, and he was roundly abused by the religious right at the time. And that’s just when they were getting up and going there, in the midseventies. So he came back and introduced a bill, essentially, to make homosexuality a crime again but turning it from a status offense into an act. And I tried to kill it then. It just struck me as wrong.

And I remember, it was the first thing that sort of, I don’t know, brought me to the attention of some of the gay community in my home State. It was never a big issue. And I failed. I thought I had it done, and I failed. Literally in the last 30 minutes of the last day of the legislative session, they voted it out. And we knew we had to kill it in committee because the legislators would be afraid to vote against it back then.

I knew from the time I was a boy growing up that I knew people who were gay, even though they didn’t talk about it. So I always felt that. And then when I started running for President and people who were active in the gay rights cause started to talk to me–starting with David Mixner, who had been a friend of mine for, by then, way over 20 years–I just decided that it was one thing I was going to try to make a difference in. And I started actively seeking out members of the gay community. Marty Rouse helped me a lot in New York, took me to a big meeting there I never will forget.

I know it seems sort of–it probably seems strange to everybody. I was running on a New Democratic platform. I was a Governor of a southern State, and on issues like fiscal responsibility and some foreign policy issues I was, I suppose, to the right of where most activist Democrats were. But it just struck me as a human rights issue from the beginning, and a personal issue.

Future of Gay Rights

Mr. Bull. Having set that tone in the White House, is there–how do we maintain it after you’re in office? How do we make sure it doesn’t go back to pitting groups against one another?

The President. Well, first of all, I think that it will never be quite the same. I think we have to give–you can’t give me too much credit and give the gay community too little, or give the American people too little credit. I mean, I don’t think it will ever be fashionable for people in national life to demonize gays again.

But I think the extent to which we continue to progress will depend entirely on who’s elected. Al Gore is for the hate crimes legislation and the “Employment and Non-Discrimination Act” and has been at least as open, if not more open, than me in pursuing this cause. This is something that he really, really feels strongly about.

And I don’t believe Governor Bush is a bad person, with a bad heart. I think he basically has a good heart. But I think that–you know, he passed on the hate crimes bill in Texas, and I don’t think he’ll be for the “Employment and Non-Discrimination Act.” And if he wins and he keeps his majority in Congress, I just don’t think we’ll get very far legislatively. And there won’t be nearly as many appointments, and I don’t think the approach to AIDS, both at home and abroad, will be nearly as aggressive.

Legislative Agenda/Gays in the Military

Mr. Bull. With all your success in setting a different tone on the gay rights debate, the legislative and policy related areas have been more challenging. How do you think–I mean, what needs to be done to actually make concrete legislative gains in terms of the military policy, et cetera?

The President. Well, I think two things. I think, first of all, on the concrete legislative gains, I think the most important thing is to change the composition of Congress. It doesn’t have to change a lot–you know, 10 or 12 seats in the House, even if the Democrats didn’t win a majority in the Senate–if we picked up three or four seats, so that it was effectively a split, I think it would change the landscape dramatically.

So I think if you had a President who was committed and some changes in the Congress, even modest changes, I think it would make a huge difference on the legislative front.

On the gays in the military issue, I think it’s important to remember—-

Mr. Bull. That was a case I’m sure a lot of Democrats who opposed an initiative—-

The President. Oh, we got killed. I think a lot of people forget– and I don’t want to be too defensive about this–but a lot of people forget that I did not accept General Powell’s proposed compromise until the Senate had voted 68-32 in a resolution against my position. The House, we knew there were over 300 votes against us, so we knew they had a veto-proof majority. But we thought we might be able to sustain a veto of an attempt to ratify the old policy, until the Senate voted 68-32 against it. So that meant they had a veto-proof majority in both Houses.

So my guess is that what the next move should be is to try to get the Congress to restore to the military and the executive branch discretion to make this decision and then to try to explore–because I think there have been some changes in attitudes to the military, too– whether there is–you know, what kind of steps could be taken from there.

I don’t think that the Congress would be willing to legislatively reverse it and adopt the policy that I favor. But they might be willing to give the policy back to the executive branch and to the military on the condition that the President pledge to kind of work through this thing with the military. And I do believe there has been some progress there. There’s still a lot of resistance, too, as you know, but I think there has been some progress.

Mr. Bull. You were pilloried on both sides of that issue in ’93.

The President. The worst of all worlds, everybody was mad at me.

Mr. Bull. Because you had your friend David Mixner–was protesting. And you said at the time that you had spilt a lot of blood on the issue. What did you mean by that?

The President. Well, just that. I mean, I cared a lot about it. I thought I was right. I didn’t agree to compromise until I was beat. One of the things I learned the first 2 years is that–I don’t think it was apparent to 90 percent of the people in the gay community who cared about this that we were beat. That is, I don’t think that we made enough of the Senate vote, and maybe what I should have done, if I just was concerned about my own standing and clarity, is just let them pass it and veto it. Then they’d override the veto. We’d be back where we were.

But the way they implemented the changes that we announced in the first few years were just about as bad as it was before. Now, it’s gotten a little better now. Bill Cohen has gotten on it and changed a lot of the training. There is no question that as a practical matter, even though it’s unsatisfying as a matter of principle, that if the policy as I announced it or implemented it, it would be better than the policy before. But for years there was a lot of resistance to that.

I think it is going to get better now if the next Secretary of Defense hews to the line that Secretary Cohen has set out.

Gay Community Leadership

Mr. Bull. The gay rights movement I think eventually came to see that it, itself, had failed to provide you a certain amount of political cover to create the conditions in America in which people supported such a change. You’ve experienced gay rights leaders for a long time now. How do you think it could become a more effective, mainstream political force in the long run?

The President. Well, first of all, I don’t think that they failed any more than I did. Look, I fight a lot of fights I don’t win. The NRA beats me more than I beat them in Congress. The insurance companies beat me on health care, and so far, they’re beating us on the Patients’ Bill of Rights. The drug companies, so far, are beating us on adding a Medicare drug benefit.

So it shouldn’t be surprising or, I would argue, discouraging that the first time you come out of the box on some of these issues you don’t win. America has always been, like all societies, a place where organized, entrenched interests initially have more power than even popular causes that are not equally well organized, particularly when the issue may not be a voting issue yet with the American people.

There are lots of issues where a majority, maybe even two-thirds, agree with me, and I still can’t pass it in Congress because to the people who are against it, it’s a voting issue or a contribution issue, and to people who are for it, it isn’t.

Now, I think the gay community has come a long way just since I’ve been here, both in terms of the sophistication of it’s arguments and the quality of its organization and its active participation in the political process, including contributing to campaigns of the people you agree with and believe in. So I think all that is to the good.

But I still say, I think the most important thing–I was just looking over the people that are going to be at this lunch that we’re going to and what they do for a living. They have normal jobs in big companies that are important, and they’re in a position to exercise influence over people with whom they work. The thing I think is important is to try to get more non-gay supporters of these issues who see it as civil rights issues and see it as a voting issue, an important political priority. And I think that it’s going that way.

Same-Sex Marriage

Mr. Bull. In ’96–I think I actually had the year wrong–you signed the Defense of Marriage Act. Do you think Americans–and, politically, that was a hard issue for everyone in Congress, as well as you. Do you think Americans will ever come to the point where they can find same-sex marriage acceptable?

The President. I don’t know the answer to that. But again, I think that under the law, gay couples who have manifested a genuine commitment should have all the legal options that others do, whether it’s how they leave their estates or cover their partners with health insurance on the job or such simple things as the right to visit hospital beds during family visiting hours, you know, the whole panoply of things.

And then I think that when people come to respect that, and people will put their own words to whatever the relationship is and it will– the main thing is that we recognize the integrity of commitments and the right citizens have to leave their property and take care of the health of people they love and all the things that people do.

Also, I think one of the things that may impact this debate in the future is the parallel debate that’s going on in some places still over adoptions, because you see more and more gay couples adopting kids. Very often, they’re children who wouldn’t be taken by other people or who haven’t been. And I think that’s going to have an impact on people.

I’ve always felt that all those anti-adoption laws were wrong. I think that the present law is the right–the historical, almost common law standard in America, although it’s in statute now and our country is–these decisions should be made based on what’s best for the child. I think that responsible childrearing is the most important work of any society. And insofar as people see it being done by gay couples, I think that will add to a bill’s support for fair treatment.

Mr. Bull. Have your own views on same-sex marriage, itself–not on civil union or domestic partnership legislation–changed since ’96?

The President. My views were and are that people who have a relationship ought to be able to call it whatever they want. And insofar as it’s sanctified by a religious ceremony, that’s up to the churches involved. And I always thought that.

I think what happened in the Congress was that a lot of people who didn’t want to be anti-gay didn’t feel that they should be saying that as a matter of law, without regard to what various churches or religions or others thought, that the United States policy was that all unions that call themselves marriages are, as a matter of law, marriages. I don’t think we’re there yet.

But I think that what we ought to do is to get the legal rights straightened out and let time take it’s course, and we’ll see what happens.

Gay Support

Mr. Bull. Just two or three more questions. With your political troubles with the GOP and the House, polls showed that gays and lesbians, along with African-Americans, were among your staunchest supporters. They really rallied to your cause and thought it was very, by and large–you know, there are certainly gay Republicans who would disagree–felt that you were being treated unfairly, your private life being used against you.

How do you feel about that support that you got from—-

The President. First of all, I was honored to have it. And secondly, I think that partly it came out of the same wellspring of experience that prompted so many African-Americans to stick with me. They’ve been there. The people who’ve been targeted, who’ve been publicly humiliated and abused, I think, identified with what was going on, because they knew, the whole world, if anybody had been paying attention, knew by then that the whole Whitewater thing was a fraud–it never amounted to anything, which has now been acknowledged–that the civil lawsuit against me was also totally unmeritorious, as even the judge said.

So they knew that basically the whole thing was just a vehicle to try to find some last, desperate way to undermine the result of two elections and what I was trying to do for the America people and the fact that I tried to be a President for people who had been left out, left behind, ignored, and kicked, as well as for the vast majority of the American people that just needed somebody to do the right things in Washington.

So I think that there were a lot of people that knew what it was like to take a bullet, and they saw it for what it was.

Religious Right

Mr. Bull. Gays and lesbians are often the target of really unrelenting attacks from the right wing, especially religious conservatives like Falwell and Robertson. They’ve sometimes turned their focus on you, as well. Does that enhance your empathy for the plight that gays and lesbians sometimes experience?

The President. Yes, although I always—-

Mr. Bull. I mean, has it surprised you, the—-

The President. —-my empathy level was pretty high. Does it surprise me that they hated me as much as they did? A little bit. But I think there are two things. First of all, for all their railing against entitlements on behalf of poor people, a lot of those people have a sense of entitlement to cultural superiority and political power. And they don’t think anybody that’s not part of their crowd has a right to cultural legitimacy or political power. And before ’92, I think most of them thought no Democrat would ever win again. They thought they had this little proven formula, you know, to sort of portray us as enemies of ordinary Americans–to use a phrase that Newt Gingrich used against me and my wife. I think that was part of it.

And I think the other thing is, I think that one of the reasons they disliked me especially is that they see me as an apostate because I’m a southern white male Protestant, and southern white male Protestants have been the backbone of their political and social power, because we tend to be more politically and socially conservative.

So I think those are the two things that prompted it. Maybe they just don’t like me. You know that old joke about the guy that falls off the mountain? He said, “God, why me?” And He said, “Son, there’s just something about you I don’t like.” [Laughter] So maybe that’s it. I don’t know. [Laughter]

Boy Scouts

Mr. Bull. Boy Scouts of America, the Supreme Court decision upholding the Scouts’ right to determine their own membership criteria and exclude gay Scouts. Members of Congress have asked you to resign your honorary position. Would you be willing to do that?

The President. Let me ask you a fact question, first. The Girl Scouts have a different policy, don’t they?

Mr. Bull. Yes, they have no policy.

The President. Well, I can tell you that my present inclination is that I shouldn’t do it, because I think the Scouts do a world of good and because I think they can be persuaded to change. I think the policy is wrong, and I’ve made it quite clear that I think their policy is wrong. And they certainly know where I stand on it. I believe they’ll change, and I think we should keep working on them.

But I don’t know that it wouldn’t do more harm than good, especially now, at the end of my tenure, for me just to do what would be a symbolic act of resignation. I also really appreciate a lot of the good they’ve done, especially with inner-city kids and poor kids, and I don’t think we should negate the good they’ve done or we try to change what’s wrong.

I think they’re afraid. And I think there are all these, sort of, preconceptions–that I think are totally wrong–that gay adults are more likely to abuse children than straight adults. And if you look at the evidence every year in cases of child abuse that have a sexual component, there’s just no evidence to support that. But I think there’s a fear factor there.

Mr. Bull. But aren’t those kids that you’re talking about, that are being helped by the Scouts, being taught that they can mistreat gay kids, gay kids are second class?

The President. If I thought they were doing that–you know, one of the things that bothered me about the military situation is I thought there was an affirmative, anti-gay bias in the military. And there still is in some places. But as I said, I’m convinced Secretary Cohen is making an aggressive effort to deal with that now. If I thought they were, that would have some impact on me. I don’t–if that’s going on, I don’t know about it. It may, but nobody—-

Mr. Bull. Just the policy of exclusion would imply—-

The President. —-nobody has ever given me information about that. I think it’s much more a function of their buying into the presumption that, particularly, gay Scout leaders would be more likely to have some sort of improper influence on the kids, rather than being inherently anti-gay.


Mr. Bull. Can I just throw in one question, because we haven’t addressed AIDS?

The President. Sure. Yes, do that.

Mr. Bull. We probably should get that in; I’m sorry. Because of the advances of AIDS treatment and the decline in death rates, it’s hard to maintain the sense of urgency about ending this disease. You’ve worked on it a lot during your two administrations. How can we maintain that sense of urgency to conquer it?

The President. The first thing I think we have to do is to keep in mind, keep the public in mind that there are 40,000 new cases every year, and that more than half of them affect children and young people under 25. That’s a lot.

The second thing I would say is, I do believe there is overwhelming bipartisan consensus in the Congress and in the country to continue looking for a cure and to continue investing in that.

And thirdly, there is overwhelming bipartisan consensus to continue, I think, the very large funding levels that we’ve achieved in CARE. So I think we’re in reasonably good shape on that.

The next big step that I think will keep a sense of urgency is to really internationalize the struggle, to recognize America’s responsibility to deal with the global AIDS crisis and to understand that the relationship between AIDS at home and AIDS abroad is quite a close one, especially with borders being as open as they are now, a lot of immigrants coming here every year, and our responsibilities and the rest of the world and our hopes for the rest of the world–particularly in our outreach to Africa, to the Indian subcontinent, and increasingly to the states of the former Soviet Union, where the AIDS rates are growing very rapidly–our ability to do what we’re trying to do in those areas will turn, in no small part, on our ability to work with them, to help them reverse the epidemic.

You’re going to have African countries–I’ve had an unprecedented outreach to Africa, and we just passed this big trade bill with Africa, and we’re trying to get debt relief for the poorest African countries that are being well run. But there are countries over there that last year had very high growth rates, that within 10 years to 15 years will have more people in their sixties than in their thirties in those countries because of the AIDS epidemic. Their economies, their societies are very likely to become largely dysfunctional, along with their political systems, unless we can do something to turn the AIDS epidemic.

I think we can keep more edge on the fight against AIDS at home if we marry it more closely to the fight against AIDS around the world.

Mr. Bull. Thank you very much, Mr. President.

The President. I enjoyed the visit.

Mr. Bull. I appreciate it very much.

The President. Thanks.

Note: The interview began at 12:47 p.m. aboard Air Force One en route from Andrews Air Force Base, MD, to Dallas, TX, and the transcript was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on October 23. In his remarks, the President referred to Republican Presidential candidate Gov. George W. Bush; Dennis and Judy Shepard, parents of murder victim Matthew Shepard; Commander David O’Malley, Laramie, WY, Police Department, who investigated Shepard’s murder; gay activist and author David Mixner; and Marty Rouse, assistant to the Secretary of Health and Human Services. A tape was not available for verification of the content of this interview

Improving Hate Crimes Reporting

by Bill Clinton
September 13, 2000

September 13, 2000


SUBJECT: Improving Hate Crimes Reporting

Unfortunately, each year our country experiences a number of hate crimes. We have all heard about the heinous incidents such as the dragging death of James Byrd, Jr., in Jasper, Texas, in June 1998. In October of that same year, Mathew Shepard, a gay college student, died after being beaten and tied to a fence. In July 1999, Benjamin Smith went on a racially motivated shooting spree in Illinois and Indiana. At the end of this rampage fueled by hate, Ricky Byrdsong, an African American who was a former basketball coach at Northwestern University, and Won-Joon Yoon, a Korean graduate student at Indiana University, were killed, and eight others were wounded. In August 1999, Joseph Ileto, an Asian American and U.S. postal worker, died at the hands of a gunman in Los Angeles. This same gunman also injured five persons, including three children, at a Jewish community center. Finally, this year there were two rampages in Pennsylvania in which several people of various ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds were killed or injured. These crimes affect the entire Nation, the communities in which they occur, and the victims and their families in ways fundamentally different from other crimes. People are targeted simply because of who they are — whether it is because of their race, religion, color, sexual orientation, gender, or disability.

During my Administration, we have worked hard to fight hate crimes. I established the National Church Arson Task Force in June 1996 to oversee the investigation and prosecution of arson at houses of worship around the country. I held the first-ever White House Conference on Hate Crimes in November 1997. At the conference, I announced that the Department of Justice would establish Hate Crimes Working Groups in the U.S. Attorneys’ districts across the country. These working groups, essentially Federal-State-local partnerships, typically include representation from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), State and local law enforcement and prosecutors’ offices, educators, and community groups. The groups work to ensure close coordination on hate crimes investigations and prosecutions among responsible law enforcement agencies; promote training of police, investigators, and prosecutors in identifying and dealing with hate crimes; encourage victims to report hate crimes; and educate the public about the harm they cause. In April of this year, I held a strategy session with some representatives of these Hate Crimes Working Groups at which law enforcement officials — at the Federal, State, and local levels — reported that they coordinate closely on hate crimes investigations and prosecutions.

In 1998, the last year for which FBI figures are available, 7,755 hate crimes were reported — nearly one hate crime every hour of every day. Of these hate crimes reported, 56 percent were motivated by race, 18 percent by religion, and 16 percent by sexual orientation. However, there was certainly an underreporting of hate crimes.

Today, I announced a new report, “Improving the Quality and Accuracy of Bias Crime Statistics Nationally: An Assessment of the First Ten Years of Bias Crime Data Collection,” which was funded by the Department of Justice. This report noted that over 10,000 city, county, and State law enforcement agencies now participate in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Hate Crime Data Collection Program. Although 83 percent of participating agencies reported that no hate crimes had occurred in their jurisdiction during the previous year, follow-up surveys with line officers showed that 31 percent of those agencies had investigated one or more incidents of hate crimes. These data indicate a disconnect between what line officers believe are hate crimes and what is reported to the FBI. Extra-polating from this data, the report estimates that between 5,000 and 6,000 additional agencies may have encountered hate crimes that were not reported to the national program. In addition, the report noted that 85 percent of law enforcement officers responding to a survey believed that hate-motivated crimes are more serious than similar crimes that are not motivated by bias.

Based on the results of this report, I hereby direct the Department of Justice to work with State and local law enforcement agencies, as well as relevant law enforcement organizations, to come up with a plan to improve hate crimes reporting, within 120 days. I understand that the Department already plans to meet with representatives of State and local law enforcement organizations later this month. In addition to this meeting, the Department should consider in its plan whether various actions, such as the following, would improve hate crimes reporting:
Pilot programs in jurisdictions where law enforcement agencies reported zero incidents of hate crimes;
A study to analyze the role that juvenile offenders play in the number of hate crimes committed each year;
Training sessions by Federal law enforcement on identifying and reporting hate crimes; and
Activities by the U.S. Attorney Hate Crimes Working Groups to work with community groups and local law enforcement to improve hate crimes reporting in their areas, including helping to bring more victims forward to the police.

In carrying out these activities, I know that you will continue your leadership on fighting and preventing hate crimes in order to make this country a safer place for all Americans.


Letter on the Hate Crimes Prevention Act

by Bill Clinton
Text of a letter from the President to the Speaker of the House of Representatives
July 12, 2000

Dear Mr. Speaker:

I write to urge you to bring the Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA) to the floor for a vote before the August recess. Last month, the Senate, in a strong bipartisan showing, voted over-whelmingly to pass this legislation that would strengthen federal hate crimes law. As the Senate vote demonstrates, passing hate crimes legislation is not a partisan issue. It is a national concern requiring a national response. Now it is time for the House to do its part to ensure that strong hate crimes legislation becomes law this year.

Since this legislation was introduced in November 1997, our country has witnessed countless acts of bigotry and hatred. In June 1998, James Byrd, Jr., an African-American man, was brutally dragged to his death. In October of that year, Mathew Shepard, a gay college student, died after being beaten and tied to a fence. In July 1999, Benjamin Smith went on a racially motivated shooting spree in Illinois and Indiana. At the end of this hate-fueled rampage, Ricky Byrdsong, an African-American who was former basketball coach at Northwestern University, and Won-Joon Yoon, a Korean graduate student at Indiana University, were killed, and eight others were wounded. In August 1999, Joseph Ileto, a native of the Philippines and U.S. postal worker, died at the hands of a gunman in Los Angeles. This same gunman also injured five persons, including three children, at a Jewish community center. Finally, this year there were two killing rampages in Pennsylvania. In March, an African-American man shot and killed three white men. In April, another man murdered an African-American man, a Jewish woman, two Asian-American men, and an Indian man. We must take action now to stop these acts of violence.

This legislation is absolutely necessary because hate crimes are fundamentally different from other crimes. Victims are targeted simply because of who they are — whether it is race, color, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or gender. These acts of violence affect entire communities, not just the individual victims. This legislation would provide more tools to State and local law enforcement to investigate and prosecute hate crimes. It would also expand protection to include hate crimes based on sexual orientation, gender, or disability.

I ask the House of Representatives to follow the bipartisan example of the Senate by passing hate crimes legislation before the August recess. We must send a message that hate crimes will not be tolerated, and that one more hate crime is one too many.



Remarks by the President on Hate Crimes

by Bill Clinton
The East Room
April 25, 2000

2:32 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you, Amy Klobuchar and all the other law enforcement officials, civil rights leaders who are here; Attorney General Reno, Deputy Attorney General Holder.

Before I begin my remarks about hate crimes, I’d like to say just a brief word about the reunion of Elian Gonzalez and his father. After five months, it was long overdue. Now that they have been safely reunited, I believe it’s time for all of us, including the media and those of us in public life, to give this family the space it needs to heal its wounds and strengthen its bonds; to work to lessen the pressure on them as the matter goes forward in the courts.

The thing that really matters now is that little boy and his life and his family. And I think, at least for the next several days, the less we all say about it and the more time he has to breathe the air of a normal life, the better.

I would like to commend the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General Holder, the law enforcement and the INS. They had a very, very difficult job to do, with no easy choices. And I am grateful that they were able to safely reunite the young boy with his father. Thank you. (Applause.)

We have just had a very, very good meeting with people who are on the front lines of law enforcement in our communities, people with different responsibilities, very different backgrounds, different viewpoints, who have all come to the same conclusion: we need to work together as partners and as a national community to fight crimes fueled by hate. And we need strong federal hate crimes legislation.

I want to be clear: most hate crimes are investigated and prosecuted at the state level. We support that. In fact, one of the reasons that I asked Janet Reno to become Attorney General over seven years ago is that she had been a prosecutor in Miami for a dozen years. And I wanted the federal government to have a unified law enforcement policy with state and local authorities all across this country in an unprecedented partnership. I think we have achieved that.

But in some of the most brutal, hate-motivated crimes, federal officials have been prevented from teaming up with local law enforcement. That has denied communities the resources and the expertise they need. We can draw a line against hate by drawing on each other’s experiences.

One important way to ensure that hate crimes are punished and justice is done is to make sure we’re all able to do our part. And that was the focus of our meeting today. Probably, you’ve heard me say many times by now that the great irony of this very modern age is that the biggest stumbling block we face is perhaps the oldest problem in human relations — our fear of those who are different from us. It’s not a far leap from that kind of fear and then to distrust, and then the dehumanization and then to violence.

We have seen that in case after case across this land: a man dragged to death in Texas because he was black; a young man stretched across a fence in Wyoming because he was gay; children shot in Los Angeles because of their faiths; and a young Korean American shot coming out of church by a man who said he belonged to a church that didn’t believe in God, but did believe in white supremacy.

In 1998, the last year for which we have statistics, over 7,700 hate crimes incidents were reported in our nation — almost one an hour. And it is suspected by the experts that many more go unreported. These are not like other crimes, because these crimes target people simply because of who they are. And because they do, they strike at the heart of who we are as a nation.

Whenever one of these crimes is committed it creates a tension and fear that rips at the fabric of community life. This is not a partisan statement, but a simple statement of fact. This is about people who go to work, obey the law, are good citizens and good neighbors, who ought to be able to live their lives in dignity and without fear of abuse or attack but cannot. That’s why we have worked hard to combat such crimes.

Two and a half years ago I convened the first ever White House Conference on Hate Crimes. Since then we have increased substantially the number of FBI agents working on them. We have successfully prosecuted a number of serious cases, formed local hate crime working groups in the U.S. Attorneys Offices around our nation, worked to help police officers identify the signs of a hate crime. My budget for the coming year includes funding for hate crime training for law enforcement.

But we must do more. You have already heard today, federal laws punish some crimes committed against people on the basis of race or religion or national origin. But they are hamstrung by needless jurisdictional requirements for existing crimes. Right now federal prosecutors cannot prosecute even the most heinous crimes unless the victim was voting, serving on a jury or doing some other federally protected activity. That defies common sense.

Today I heard about a case involving three skinheads in Lubbock, Texas, who declared a race war in their community, murdered one African-American as he was walking down the street and injured two others. Local prosecutors and the U.S. Attorney’s Office decided together that the case should be tried in federal court. The skinheads were convicted and are behind bars with no chance of parole. But if the victim had been inside a friend’s house instead of on a public street, that would not have been a hate crime under today’s federal law. That doesn’t make sense. It shouldn’t matter where the murder was committed. It was still a hate crime. And the resources of the federal government were needed.

We also must give federal prosecutors the ability to prosecute hate crimes committed because of sexual orientation, gender or disability. These account for a growing number of such crimes. As the community leaders have told us today, this is not about taking anything away from states and communities. It’s about making sure all our hometowns have the tools they need to fight hate.

So today I want to announce some new ways to do just that. First, the American Prosecutors Research Institute, the research arm of the National District Attorneys Association, is releasing today a resource guide, the first of its kind, to help prosecutors’ offices handle hate crimes investigations and prosecutions. This report was funded by the Justice Department. It highlights model practices around our country, giving guidance on everything from screening cases and investigation, to trial preparation, to help in preventing the crimes in the first place.

Second, I’m announcing the release of a new guide that highlights promising practices by communities to confront and reduce hate crimes. It spotlights five national models, from California to Maine, for training criminal justice professionals, treating the emotional and practical needs of hate crime victims, and taking creative steps to root out hate from public schools.

Third, and most important, I am renewing my call on Congress to pass a meaningful hate crimes bill. Last year, Congress stripped out important hate crimes protections from a bill that had already passed the Senate. I vetoed the bill in part because it did not contain the strong hate crimes provisions we’re fighting for.

This year, America needs action. No one should be victimized because of how they look, how they worship, or who they are. The one thing I regret today is that all of you and through our friends in the media who are here, the American people, could not have heard the personal testimony of the two law enforcement officials — who came all the way from Wyoming to be with us — about how the searing experience of Matthew Shepard’s murder and their responsibility to investigate it; to get to know his friends, gay and straight alike, and his family; to understand the circumstances of the inhumanity which took his life — how all of that changed their lives. That is really what this is about. We need to provide a law that works. And we need to get beyond the law so that we all work together. It is profoundly important.

Let me say in a larger sense, this is part of our efforts to make our country a less violent place. I am grateful that crime is at a 25-year low; that homicides are at a 30-year low; that gun crimes have dropped 35 percent in the last seven years. But as we saw just yesterday at the devastating act of violence at the National Zoo here in our nation’s capital, where seven young people were shot and wounded in a senseless act, our country still has too much violence and too much crime.

I’d like to express my concern and support to the Mayor and the entire community and, obviously, to the victims and their families. But whether it’s a random act against children or a crime driven by hate, it should be obvious to all of us that we can do more and we must do more.

Seven years ago and three months now, when I became President, I think there were a lot of people who really wondered whether the crime rate could be brought down in our country; whether we could become less violent. In such an atmosphere, maybe reservations about taking even sensible steps could be justified. But today we don’t have any excuses. We know we can make America a safer place.

But while the crime rate may be at a 25-year low, and gun crimes may be down 35 percent, and the homicide rate may be down to a 30-year low, there is not a single soul in this room or in this entire country who believes that our children are as safe as they ought to be, that people are safe from hate crimes, no matter what their race, their religion, their condition or their sexual orientation, that we have done all we can to make this the country it ought to be.

So if you believe that everyone counts and that everyone should have a chance to live his or her life, and if you believe we all do better when we work together, then you’ve got to help us pass this legislation. It’s very important and we don’t have a single excuse not to do it.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 2:45 P.M. EDT

Remarks by the President at Hate Crimes Announcement

by Bill Clinton
The Roosevelt Room
April 6, 1999
Full Video

10:51 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Senator Leahy, Senator Specter, Congressman Cardin and Delahunt, Secretary Riley, Acting Assistant Attorney General Bill Lann Lee; to our D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey, and the other distinguished guests in the audience who are in support — broadened support of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Let me begin by thanking Attorney General Ketterer and Bishop Jane Holmes Dixon for being here.

I want you to know that the Attorney General got up at 3:00 a.m. this morning to drive down here from Maine. And of course, he got up that early so he could stay lawfully within the speed limit — (laughter) — coming down here. And he set a good example, and he was wide awake and very persuasive on the law.

Bishop, we thank you for your very moving remarks. Remind me never to speak behind you again. (Laughter.) It was -so much of what the Bishop said about the setting of this is many things that I have thought. I think she and I and those of us who grew up in the segregated south are perhaps more sensitive to all these various hate crimes issues because we grew up in a culture that was dominated for too long by people who thought they only counted if they had somebody to look down on, that they could only lift themselves up if they were pushing someone else down; that their whole definition of a positive life required a negative definition of another group of people. That’s really what this is all about.

And if you — as she said, if you look at the whole history of this violence we see in Kosovo, what we went through in Bosnia, this, the fifth anniversary of the awful Rwandan genocide, that I regret so much the world was not organized enough to move quickly enough to deal with it before hundreds of thousands of lives were lost — with the oppression of women in Afghanistan, with the lingering bitterness in the Middle East — you see all these things. When you strip it all away, down deep inside there is this idea that you cannot organize personal life or social life unless some group feels better about itself only when they are oppressing someone else. Or people at least believe that they ought to have the right to do violence against someone else solely because of who they are, not because of what they do. Now, at the bottom, that’s what this is all about.

And I have said repeatedly since I have been President that one of the things I have sought to do in our country is to bridge all these divides, and to get all of our people not to agree with one another, not to even like one another all the time — goodness knows, we can’t like everybody all the time — but to recognize that our common humanity is more important than these categorical differences. And also to recognize that over the long run, America will not be able to be a force for good abroad unless we are good at home.

If you think about the brave men and women who are working with our NATO allies today in Kosovo, and you remember that this basically all started 12 years ago, when Mr. Milosevic decided to rally the support of his ethnic Serbian group by turning their hatred against the Kosovar Albanians, and later the Bosnian Muslims and the Croatian Catholics, and the others — it is very important that we deal with these challenges here at home, even as we continue to support the work of our people in uniform in this Balkans.

I want to say again, the United States would never choose force as anything other than a last option. And Mr. Milosevic could end it now by withdrawing his military police and paramilitary forces, by accepting the deployment of an international security force to protect not only the Kosovar Albanians, most but not all of whom are Muslims, but also the Serbian minority in Kosovo. Everybody. We’re not for anybody’s hate crimes. And by making it possible for all the refugees to return and to move toward a political framework based on the accords reached in France.

Now, as I said, we can’t continue to organize ourselves to try to stand against these things around the world — which I firmly hope we will. I applaud the women in America who have done so much to bring to the world’s attention the terrible treatment of women in Afghanistan, for example. And we have worked hard in Africa to work with other African forces to build an Africa Crisis Response Initiative so that something like the Rwanda genocide cannot happen again. We have to keep working on these things.

But first of all, we must always be working on ourselves. That’s really what this is about. Because we know this is more the work of the Bishop than the President, but we know that inside each of us there are vulnerabilities to dehumanizing other people simply by putting them in a category that permits us to dismiss them, or that permits us to put them in a category so that on a bad day, when we’re feeling especially bad about something we’ve done, we can say, well, thank God I’m not them. And it is a short step from that — a short, short step from that — to licensing or even participating in acts of violence.

As I said, it may be — I was standing here looking at Secretary Riley, and Bishop Dixon; I was thinking about all the years that Secretary Riley and I worked together. It may be that the three of us are more sensitive to this because we grew up in the segregated South, but it is very easy to get into a social system where you always get to think a little better of yourself because you’ve always got someone that you can dehumanize.

And that’s really what this whole issue with gays is today in America. We’re not talking about everybody agreeing with everybody else on every political issue. We’re talking about whether people have a right, if they show up and work hard and obey the law, and are good citizens, to pursue their lives and dignity without — free of fear, without fear of being abused.

And this should not be a partisan issue. I want to thank Senator Specter for showing up here today. This ought not to be anything other than a basic, simple statement of American principle.

But I would like to say one other thing, just as a practical matter. Isn’t it interesting to you that we are on the eve of a new century and a new millennium — which will be largely characterized by globalization, the explosion of technology, especially information, and the integration of people — and the number one security threat to that is the persistence of old, even primitive, hatreds? Don’t you think that’s interesting?

So what I worry about all the time is whether terrorists can get on the Internet and figure out how to make chemical and biological weapons to pursue agendas against people of different ethnic or religious groups. And so it’s very humbling, I think, for those of us who think we have brought the modern world, and prosperity and rationality to all of human affairs, to see what is going on in the Balkans, and to see these terrible examples of violence here in our own country. It’s very humbling. We should remember that each of us almost wakes up every day with the scales of light and darkness in our own hearts, and we’ve got to keep them in proper balance. And we have to be, in the United States, absolutely resolute about this.

That’s why I think this hate crimes issue is so important. That’s why I convened the first White House Conference on Hate Crimes a year and a half ago. Since then, I would like to say, we have substantially increased the number of FBI agents working on these crimes. We have successfully prosecuted a number of serious cases. We have formed local hate crimes working groups in U.S. Attorney’s offices around the country.

But this is a significant problem. In 1997, the last year for which we have statistics, over 8,000 hate crime incidents were reported in the United States. That’s almost one an hour. Almost one an hour.

So, what are we going to do about it? I would like to mention — we’ve already talked about the law and I’ll say more about that in a minute, but first of all, let me mention three other things. I’ve asked the Justice Department and the Education Department to include in their annual report card on school safety crucial information on hate crimes among young people both at and away from schools — not only to warn, but to educate.

Secondly, I’m asking the Department of Education to collect important data for the first time on hate crimes and bias on college campuses. Another cruel irony, isn’t it — college, the place where we’re supposed to have the most freedom, the place where we’re supposed to be the most rational, the place where we’re supposed to think the highest thoughts with the greatest amount of space. We have significant hate crime problems there, and we need to shine the light on that.

Third, I’m very pleased about this — we are going to have a public-private partnership to help reach middle school students to discuss this whole issue with them and talk about tolerance — why it is a moral, as well as a practical imperative. And the partnership includes AT&T, Court TV — good for them — (laughter) — the National Middle School Association, the Anti-Defamation League, Cable in the Classrooms, as well as the Departments of Education and Justice. I would like to thank them all, because we have to not only punish bad things when they happen, the larger mission is to change the mind, the heart, and the habits of our people when they’re young — to keep bad things from happening.

Finally, let me join the others — the Attorney General and the Bishop — in saying, Congress should pass this law this year. The federal laws already punish some crimes committed against people on the basis of race or religion or national origin, but as the Attorney General made so clear, not all crimes committed for that purpose. This would strengthen and expand the ability of the Justice Department by removing needless jurisdictional requirements for existing crimes, and giving federal prosecutors the ability to prosecute hate crimes committed because of sexual orientation, gender or disability, along with race and religion.

Now, again I say, when we get exercised about these things — in particular, when someone dies in a horrible incident in America — or when we see slaughter or ethnic cleansing abroad, we should remember that we defeat these things by teaching and by practicing a different way of life, and by reacting vigorously when they occur within our own midst. That is what this is about. And we should remember, whenever we, ourselves, commit even a small slip, where we dehumanize or demonize someone else who is different from us — that every society must teach, practice, and react, if you want to make the most of the world toward which we are moving.

Our diversity is a godsend for us, and the world of the 21st century. But it is also the potential for the old, haunting demons that are hard to root out of the human spirit. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act would be important, substantively and symbolically, to send a message to ourselves and to the world that we are going into the 21st century determined to preach and to practice what is right.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 11:08 A.M. EDT

NEWS: Obama Signs Federal LGBT Hate Crimes Legislation

After more than a decade of advocacy on hate crimes prevention, a federal expansion of laws to include sexual orientation was signed by President Obama today. Watch or read his remarks on signing the bill at the Queer Rhetoric Project. And catch up on some key moments in LGBT hate crimes advocacy on the Hate Crimes issue page.