With a US Senate vote on the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act expected soon, the Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has urged journalists to scrutinise the myths and misleading claims being made by those seeking to block the proposed law.

GLAAD also want to highlight the impact of hate-motivated violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans.

In May, the bill passed in the House of Representatives on a historic 237-180 bipartisan vote.

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 expands the categories covered by existing federal hate crimes law to include gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, the law would also “strengthen the ability of federal, state and local governments to investigate and prosecute hate crimes based on race, religion, colour, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability and gender identity.

“It would strengthen state and local efforts by enabling the Justice Department to assist in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes. The bill will also provide grants to help state and local governments meet the extraordinary expenses involved in hate crime cases.”

According to the FBI, sexual orientation bias motivated 14% of such crimes in 2005.

The Human Rights Campaign also notes that The Matthew Shepard Act is supported by more than 290 law enforcement, civil rights, civic and religious organisations.

Inclusive hate crimes protections also are favoured by an overwhelming majority of Americans.

In a May 2007 poll, Gallup found a strong 68 percent in favour of expanding federal hate crimes law to cover sexual orientation, gender and gender identity. Only 27 percent were opposed.

“The Matthew Shepard Act sends a strong message to America, that hate and the violent crimes committed in its wake are not acceptable in our society, commented Judy Shepard.

“This crucial piece of legislation is an important step in the ongoing effort to erase hate. I cannot think of a single more resounding action for the Senate to take in our son Matthew’s memory.”

In May, the passage of the bill came after heated debate on the House floor, with opponents of the legislation parroting a massive disinformation campaign being waged by anti-gay activist groups like Focus on the Family, Family Research Council and the Traditional Values Coalition in their efforts to defeat the bill.

The Family Research Council, for example, is deceptively portraying The Matthew Shepard Act as a “thought crimes” bill, falsely asserting that the legislation could impinge on the First Amendment by penalising people for voicing non-violent anti-gay beliefs.

In the midst of these and other spurious anti-gay claims, GLAAD is encouraging journalists to scrutinise attempts to misrepresent and distort the purpose, scope and impact of the proposed law.

GLAAD is strongly urging reporters to speak to the Senate co-sponsors, as well as seek out the voices and opinions of those who have expertise in dealing with the aftermath of hate-motivated violence.

Anti-gay attacks on the bill are also being challenged by the bill’s bipartisan supporters in Congress, including Republican Senator Gordon Smith from Oregon.

In an April 13th Associated Press article, Smith said: “This act is about the prosecution of crime, not prohibition of speech. Unless they believe part of their religion is the practice of violence against others, they should not be affected by this bill.”

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