By Christine Siamanta Kinori
In 2021 alone, more than 250 potentially harmful LGBTQ-related bills were introduced or moved through the legislative process at the local, state, and federal level. Matthew Shepard’s President and co-founder, Judy Shepard, has been working tirelessly to combat these legislative attacks while also campaigning for pro-equality bills that ensure the right to safety and equality for every LGBTQ+ individual. Find out what bills she is focusing on in 2021 and why.
➤ LGBTQ+ PANIC DEFENSE BAN IN VIRGINIA
In late January, Judy gave her testimony in support of House Bill 2132 to ban the indefensible LGBTQ+ panic defense from use under Virginia criminal law. She bravely spoke about her son Matthew, whose young life was taken when he was murdered in 1998. The attackers tried to blame Matthew’s sexual orientation for their brutal attack. She reminded the court that the matter in question is about civil and human rights. She was clear that there is no reason that can ever justify such hate crimes and violence. You can read her full testimony here.
Many LGBTQ+ individuals are denied justice because of such laws and loopholes upheld by courts. She called on Virginia Courts and the General Assembly to pass the bill and ensure their justice system is free from bias and hatred. Lastly, she expressed her wish for a world in which all LGBTQ+ individuals are valued and protected as equal citizens under the law.
➤ COVID-19 HATE CRIMES ACT
Judy lauded President Biden’s decision to sign into law the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which designates an officer to expedite the review of hate crimes related to COVID-19. The officer was also given a mandate to authorize grants to state and local governments to conduct crime-reduction programs to prevent and respond to hate crimes. The bill hopes to make it easier to report hate crimes by creating state-run hate crimes reporting hotlines.
In a statement you can read in full on the Matthew Shepard Foundation’s website, Judy relayed that her “hope is that this legislation builds off of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and helps to create a more comprehensive strategy to address hate crimes through community building, prevention efforts, improved reporting and enforcement.”
➤ EQUALITY ACT
Judy has been campaigning tirelessly in support of the Equality Act. In her July interview with LGBTQ @ Venable, she spoke of the importance of it’s passage, and why there must be a clear, consistent protection across states. The Equality Act aims to explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, federally funded programs, credit, and jury service across all states in America.
➤ HATE CRIME BILLS IN WYOMING
Decades after Matthew Shepard’s murder in Laramie, Wyoming introduced a bill to combat hate crimes in the state. Pressure had been rising for the state to enact hate crime legislation. Judy spoke with CBS News and expressed her disappointment in Wyoming for taking too long to pass the bill, and what it would mean for the state to finally have the law signed.
➤ ANTI-TRANS LAWS
Leaders in Arkansas, Tennessee and Montana have been circulating several anti-trans laws. These laws include the anti-trans sports and medical bills. Judy has always been passionate about defending transgender rights and won’t be backing down soon. She has been actively campaigning against these problematic laws and raising awareness on the importance of advocating for everyone in the LGBTQ+ community. She and her husband Dennis have been vocal on their commitment to fight against the systematic attack on the transgender community.
Judy continues to inspire us with her tenacity to stand up and fight for the LGBTQ+ community. Her activism can inspire all of us. We can’t just close our eyes. We need to also stand up and call out the legal system for failing to protect every citizen.
About the Author:
Christine Siamanta Kinori grew up in a little village in Kenya known as Loitoktok near the border of Kenya and Tanzania. All she wanted to do when she grew up was to explore the world. Her curiosity led her to join Nairobi University to pursue a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications. She later got a job with an amazing travel magazine Nomad Africa which gave her the opportunity to explore Africa. She also writes for numerous travel websites about Africa and tries to create a new narrative in the media about our aesthetic continent.
Christine claims to have somewhat unhealthy addiction to TV and reading, as it is a fun way to keep herself occupied during the long journeys for her travel writing. She is also a believer of letting people be their beautiful selves. To her, love is love and it is the greatest gift we have as humans.