Mother of murdered gay man slams Trump official who tried to block hate crime law
Judy Shepard, the mother of gay murder victim Matthew Shepard, has called for the Senate to reject Donald Trump’s nominee for Attorney General – who fought against a hate crime law named in honour of her son.
In 1998, 21-year-old gay student Matthew Shepard was tortured and left for dead by two men in Laramie, Wyoming.
Mr Shepard’s death and the subsequent court case shocked America, leading to a push for hate crimes legislation spearheaded by his parents, Judy and Dennis.
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed by Obama in 2010 – but was fiercely opposed by Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, who Donald Trump has named as his Attorney General.
In a submission to Members of Congress during Sessions’ confirmation hearing, Judy Shepard urged Senators to reject the appointment of Sessions.
She wrote: “We were fortunate to work alongside members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, who championed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act with the determination, compassion, and vision to match ours as the parents of a child targeted for simply wanting to be himself.
“Senator Jeff Sessions was not one of these members. In fact, Senator Sessions strongly opposed the hate crimes bill — characterizing hate crimes as mere ‘thought crimes’.
“Unfortunately, Senator Sessions believes that hatecrimes are, what he describes as, mere ‘thought crimes’.
“My son was not killed by ‘thoughts’ or because his murderers said hateful things. My son was brutally beaten my son with the butt of a .357 magnum pistol, tied him to a fence, and left him to die in freezing temperatures because he was gay. Senator Sessions’ repeated efforts to diminish the life-changing acts of violence covered by the Hate Crimes Prevention Act horrified me then, as a parent who knows the true cost of hate, and it terrifies me today to see that this same person is now being nominated as the country’s highest authority to represent justice and equal protection under the law for all Americans.
“As Attorney General, Senator Sessions would be responsible for not only enforcing the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, but a myriad of other civil rights laws including the Violence Against Women Act, which includes explicit protections for LGBTQ people.
“Senator Sessions’ very public record of hostility towards the LGBTQ community and federal legislation designed to protect vulnerable Americans, including the Voting Rights Act, makes it nearly impossible to believe that he will vigorously enforce statutes and ideas that he worked so hard to defeat.
“Over a career that spans more than 3 decades in public life Senator Sessions has forfeited opportunity after opportunity to stand up for people like my son Matt and has, instead, used his position of power to target them for increased discrimination and marginalization, thus encouraging violence and other acts deemed to be hate crimes.
“Senator Sessions has also repeatedly opposed comprehensive immigration reform and was prevented from being confirmed as a federal judge thirty years ago based on racially offensive views.
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“Over the years, Senator Sessions has consistently referred to same-sex relationships and LGBTQ people like Matt as ‘dangerous’, or as a ‘threat’ to our American way of life and our so called ‘traditional’ moral beliefs.
“Matt was raised to believe in equal rights and equal protection for all. As a freshman in college in North Carolina, he participated in protests against the racist, bigoted, homophobic attitudes of then Senator Jesse Helms.
“During his short life, Matt was always fighting to make life better for everyone. I am here today to carry on his legacy, to do what he would be doing if he were alive, to verbally protest against the types of attitude and prejudice that resulted in his death. Matt was many things, but he was not dangerous and he was not a threat. But, based on the record of his past actions, it is blatantly clear that placing Jeff Sessions in the position as the nation’s chief law enforcement official would be both.”
The submission was part of a file from the Human Rights Campaign, detailing “Jeff Sessions’ alarming record on LGBTQ equality”, noting that he “has spent a lifetime in public service devoted to proudly denying equality and justice for LGBTQ people” and has taken a “stand against equality for LGBTQ Americans in nearly every form”.
Sessions is known as one of the most conservative and anti-LGBT members of Congress, holding a 0 percent rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard on LGBT rights. He fought vocally against equal marriage and discrimination protections for LGBT people, and opposed lifting the ban on openly gay people serving in the military.
Democratic Senator Cory Booker, a fierce champion of LGBT equality, has announced that he will testify against Sessions’ confirmation in an unprecedented move.