The late Matthew Shepard; a victim of
hate crime

US legislators have voted to extend hate crimes protection laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

The House of Representatives voted 281 to 146 on Thursday to make violence against LGBTI people a federal hate crime.

The measure, known as the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, is part of a $680 billion defence policy bill and is supported by President Obama.

The legislation will now move to the Senate for a final vote where it is expected to be passed within a week.

Gay rights groups have been trying to pass the measure for over a decade.

“We are closer than ever before to protecting Americans from hate violence thanks to today’s action by the House,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.

“The day is within sight when lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will benefit from updating our nation’s hate crimes laws and giving local law enforcement the tools they need to combat hate violence.”

The hate crimes provision was also renamed “The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act,” honouring the memory of another victim of hate violence – in the same year as Matthew Shepard – an African-American man who was dragged to death in Jasper, Texas.

The act will give the Justice Department the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violence where the perpetrator has selected the victim because of the person’s actual or perceived race, colour, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

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