President Biden warned Thursday of increasing violence against the LGBTQ community in remarks commemorating the 25th anniversary of the killing of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming who was brutally attacked and later died of his injuries in one of the most notorious anti-gay hate crimes in U.S. history.
“Matthew’s tragic and senseless murder shook the conscience of the American people,” Biden said in a statement. “And his courageous parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard, turned Matthew’s memory into a movement, galvanizing millions of people to combat the scourge of anti-LGBTQI+ hate and violence in America.”
Shepard’s parents are the co-founders of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which seeks to amplify his story.
In 2009, then-President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded federal hate crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The law also granted federal agencies greater authority to investigate and prosecute hate crimes. It was jointly named for James Byrd Jr., a Black man who was killed in 1998 by three white men in Jasper, Texas, in a gruesome and violent hate crime.
In a video released Thursday by the Human Rights Campaign, Judy and Dennis Shepard said LGBTQ Americans, particularly the transgender community, need to “stay positive” in the face of rising political attacks and threats of violence.
“We just want you to know that we’re here for you, and we’ve always been here for you. Just don’t give up,” Judy Shepard said in the video.
Biden said, “Today, as threats and violence targeting the LGBTQI+ community continue to rise, our work is far from finished. No American should face hate or violence for who they are or who they love.”
Twenty-five years after Shepard’s death, LGBTQ people still face increased risk of violence. In May, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warned government and law enforcement agencies of intensifying threats of domestic violence against the community.
“These issues include actions linked to drag-themed events, gender-affirming care, and LGBTQIA+ curricula in schools,” the DHS said in the briefing, which was first reported by ABC News.
The warning coincides with a tidal wave of state legislation targeting LGBTQ Americans: More than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced this year, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, and 84 became law. Advocates and civil rights groups say anti-LGBTQ legislation and rhetoric have put a target on the community’s back and make it more difficult for LGBTQ people to live openly.
LGBTQ people are much more likely than their non-LGBTQ peers to be victims of violent crimes. The rate of violent victimization of gay and lesbian people was more than two times that of heterosexuals between 2017 and 2020, according to a 2022 Bureau of Justice Statistics report, the most recent federal data available.
Transgender people during the same time period were 2.5 times as likely as cisgender ones to be victims of a violent crime, the report found. An analysis of the agency’s National Crime Victimization Survey last year by Everytown for Gun Safety found that homicides of transgender people in the U.S. had jumped 93 percent over four years, from 29 killings in 2017 to 56 in 2021.
Biden on Thursday called on Congress to pass the Equality Act, which would amend existing federal anti-discrimination laws to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The proposed legislation, resurrected in June by House and Senate Democrats, is essential to guaranteeing LGBTQ Americans full civil rights protections, the president said, “because every American is worthy of dignity, acceptance, and respect.”
Biden’s reelection campaign has been endorsed by top LGBTQ rights groups including the Human Rights Campaign and the National Center for Transgender Rights.
In an Oct. 10 statement, Human Rights Campaign President Kelly Robinson said the current administration’s leadership is “needed now more than ever,” citing increased hate and violence against the community. In June, the organization declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ people in the U.S. for the first time in its 40-year history.