On October 28, less than a week after it reached his desk, President Barack Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, making it the first piece of federal legislation designed specifically to protect the LGBT community from violent crime. The United States Senate passed the bill on October 22 by a vote of 68 to 29 and the House of Representatives approved it on October 8 by a vote of 281 to 146.
The New York State branch of the National Organization for Women issued a statement headed, "NOW-NYS Applauds Passage of Landmark Hate Crimes Legislation" and saying, in part, "In a campaign promise filled, President Obama signed the first significant pro-lesbian, pro-woman, pro-disability rights legislation today. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act expands the 1969 federal hate crimes law to include sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability."
"This is a historic day," said Lambda Legal Executive Director Kevin Cathcart, adding, "Years after the tragic murders of Matthew Shepard, Brandon Teena, Sakia Gunn and others, our government is finally standing up and saying: 'No more.' Our community demanded action, and we never gave up. This law will send a message that violence motivated by hate will not be tolerated in this country and is a welcome first step towards other critical protections for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities."
Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said, "President Obama today signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law! ... Today, we finally have a bill that will provide critical federal resources to state and local agencies to equip local officers with the tools they need to prosecute hate crimes and give LGBT people recourse when they are victims of violent attacks."