What Has Biden Done? He Was an Original Co-Sponsor of The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act

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Joe Biden
John Minchillo / AP file

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed Congress and was signed into law by President Obama in October 2009.

The Act extended protections of the 1969 federal hate-crimes law to include crimes motivated by the victim’s perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. It also removed the requirement that the victim be participating in a federally protected activity, like voting or going to school, when attacked.

Before this extension, victims of racial violence were a protected class, but only if engaging in such specific activities.

Joe Biden was one of the original co-sponsors of the bill, which was named after 49-year-old James Byrd Jr. and 21-year-old Matthew Shepard, both of whom were murdered in 1998. Byrd was black and Shepard was gay, and their deaths were both shockingly brutal.

The gay panic defense was employed during the trial of the men who tortured Shepard and left him to die. The defense claimed a sort of temporary insanity resulting from unwanted sexual advances.

Upon becoming vice president, Biden continued to work with Congress to push for the passage of the bill. Both President Obama and Shepard’s parents credit him with being instrumental in the law’s ultimate implementation.

Matthew’s parents Judy and Dennis Shepard, in fact, represented the Wyoming delegation during the roll call vote at the 2020 Democratic convention. In their statement, they said:

“After our son’s death in Wyoming, Joe Biden helped pass the legislation to protect LGBTQ Americans from hate crimes. He understands more than most our grief over his death. We see in Joe so much of what made Matt’s life special. Commitment to equality. Passion for social justice. And compassion for others.”

Joe Biden has quietly accomplished so much for those who face discrimination and hate and need protection the most. He has done so without boasting or symbolic gestures, simply because it is the right thing to do.


The above photo was taken in 2018, when the Biden Foundation launched its “As You Are,” campaign to “raise awareness of the importance of family acceptance in the lives of LGBTQ young people.”

In a statement provided to NBC News former Vice President Joe Biden said, “We’ll use our resources to highlight the harms of family rejection — and lift up research, best practices and personal stories to powerfully show the significant value of family acceptance.”

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Fact Quotes

It would take a decade-long push by civil rights advocates and the victims’ families to close that gap with the Shepard-Byrd act. The law removed the racial violence  loophole and was expanded to include victims targeted because of their gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. In passing Shepard-Byrd, Congress found that the federal law at the time was insufficient to address the impacts of hate crimes, which “devastates not just the actual victim and the family and friends of the victim, but frequently savages the community sharing the traits that caused the victim to be selected.”

ABC News

Judy and Dennis Shepard represented the Wyoming delegation for the roll call vote. They are the parents of Matthew Shepard, a university student who was beaten death for being gay in 1998.