status quo

When Obama Signs the Matthew Shepard Act, Here’s What Won’t Change

Shepard, Judy and Obama, Barack (Oval Office)

It’ll be a lovely day in Washington when President Barack Obama signs the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010. We’re looking at low 70s with light wind and plenty of sunshine. You might care about Obama’s signature because the bill includes the Matthew Shepard Act. But for all the hubbub over finally enacting hate crimes legislation that includes LGBTs, it’s not like the law is actually going to change anything.

Just because the feds can now join hate crimes investigations, is the White House going to start instructing its minions to jump into the fray? LOLZ, yo! Not even the Human Rights Campaign, which has been pushing for this law, thinks so. Says the org’s lobbyist David Stacy: “Are there going to be a huge number of prosecutions by the federal government, by the Justice Department, under this statute? No.” (Worth remembering: Once upon a time, HRC supported ENDA even though it didn’t include trans-protections.)

So what will change? Local and state officials can begin requesting cash from the feds to use in hate crimes investigations — though there’s no guarantee DoJ will sign off on the expenses. (One unnamed DoJ official that NPR quotes, however, says, “This law is going to be used extensively.”)

But here’s the big change you can expect: An increase in reports of hate crimes. “If you’re an individual who’s been the victim of a crime, why would you bother to report that you’d been the victim of a hate crime unless you thought that law enforcement officials were going to take it seriously?” asks the Anti-Defamation League’s Washington counsel Michael Lieberman (and co-chair of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights hate crime task force.) “After an effective hate crime law has been passed, the numbers actually may go up. And that may be a very good thing, because it’s a much more accurate reflection of the national problem.”

Or, as the American Family Association will surely point out, the rise in reports will just be the homosexuals’ means of exploiting a law to promote their own agenda! Sneaky assault victims.

(But you know what our favorite part of today’s signing will be? Because it’s really a Pentagon bill that’s being approved, Defense Sec. Robert Gates — who oversees the discrimination of thousands of gay servicemen and women — will be by Obama’s side. As he approves protections for the gays!)