JUST AS WE WERE SENDING THIS ISSUE TO THE PRINTER, the U.S. Senate was poised to pass the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act. It was tremendous news poisoned by the political reality that the measure is attached to the Department of Defense reauthorization bill, which, if it includes funding for F-22 fighter jets, could face a presidential veto.
I admit that I'm not expert when it comes to the maneuvering that's sometimes required to get a bill passed. I worked on Capitol Hill for a short time as a graduate student, and after spending hours studying the intricacies of a wilderness bill I was supposed to report on (for Montana's Great Falls Tribune) I went to a committee meeting to find that the bill had been replaced with an entirely new one. But you don't have to be savvy to the wily ways of Washington to understand that, 11 years after Shepard's murder--years that have seen countless other people attacked or murdered because of their real or perceived sexual orientation--this act deserves easy passage. Forget for a moment the irony that a measure designed to protect people from attack might be forced to share space with funding for a fighter plane. Focus instead on President Obama. He's had trouble living up to some of the promises he made as a candidate--as Michael Joseph Gross and Dan Savage point out in our cover package--but there is little doubt he will sign the Shepard act if Congress presents him with a clean bill.
I've had the great fortune to become friends with Judy and Dennis Shepard over the past 11 years, and in that time have found myself constantly in awe of their quiet--yet always deliberate and passionate--campaign for federal hate-crimes protections. It was while working with Judy on her memoir, The Meaning of Matthew: My Son's Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed (out September 3), that she explained to me some of the more hidden benefits of such a law. This isn't just about prosecuting killers like Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, it's about providing assistance to the municipalities burdened with their prosecution (Albany County, Wyo.'s finances were nearly crippled by the cost of McKinney's trial), and it's about preventing murder altogether; a 12-year-old caught scrawling fag on a locker, for example, might not only be suspended but also ordered to take all-so-important diversity training.
Just before the Senate voted, Judy told me how critical it is that Congress not saddle this bill with amendments unrelated to hate crimes. She was optimistic, though, that everything would work out. And so I am. I hope that, by the time this magazine comes out, we will be on the verge of having federal hate-crimes protections covering sexual orientation and gender identity. Finally. But just in case things get turned upside down--like they did for that wilderness bill back when I was in grad school--I encourage you to take Judy and Dennis's lead and not give up. Log on to MatthewShepard.org to see what you can do to make a difference. Eleven years is far too long to wait for these protections--but not long enough to forget why fighting for them is so important.
JON BARRETT, Editor in Chief