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"His stand is indefensible."   
- Judy Shepard commenting on Gov. George W. Bush's opposition to hate crimes laws including sexual orientation.

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Shepard and Byrd Family Statements on Hate Crimes Bill

Statement From Judy Shepard
Mother of Matthew Shepard

March 23, 1999

Thank you Elizabeth. Before I go any further, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the thousands of people throughout this country who have written or called with their support. Your kind words and warm thoughts have helped sustain me and my family through this very difficult time.

Before Matthew died, my husband and I had given little thought to the issue of hate crimes legislation. We, of course, deplored reports of violence that would from time to time come to us through the media, but we focussed very little on what our government could do about it, either at the state or federal level. We have been reluctant to speak about it until we understood more.

Since, his death, we have learned a great deal. To be clear, I am here today in response to what I have learned sincee Matthew's death not in response to it. My attorney has advised me not to comment on the upcoming trials. My husband and I want to allow justice to run its course and we will respect due process.

While it is true, perpetrating violence on another individual is against the law regardless of the motivation, violence motivated by hate has deep ramifications and is often times meant to intimidate entire groups of people. Hate crimes laws first send a message that these crimes will not be tolerated in our society, a message that sadly needs to be heard by some people. Equally as important, these laws would provide law enforcement with tools they might need in pursuing these cases and making sure that justice is served.

There is ample evidence that hate crimes laws are needed. My heart stands with Daryl Varrette who is with us today. The savagery of what occurred to his Uncle, James Byrd Jr. is beyond human comprehension.

It is my firm belief that this legislation is necessary in all 50 states and at the federal level. No one will ever know if these laws would have saved Mr. Byrd's life, or even my son's life. But we can begin today by building a safer world for all Americans, including gay and lesbian Americans. There is no guarantee that these laws will stop hate crimes from happening. But they can reduce them. They can help change the climate in this country, where some people feel as though it is Ok to target specific groups of people and get away with it. If just one is stopped. If just one potential perpetrator gets the message of this legislation and there is one less victim, then it will be worthwhile.

On behalf of my family, I call on the Congress of the United States to pass the Hate Crimes Prevention Act without delay. Also, a state and federal partnership combatting hate crimes can save lives. I urge the 21 state legislatures which have hate crimes laws that exclude sexual orientation to include it. I also urge the 8 state legislatures that have no hate crimes laws, including my home state of Wyoming, to enact them. And, I urge Gov. George W. Bush of Texas to reconsider his opposition to hate crimes laws that include sexual orientation. There is no exuse for inaction.

Thank you.


Statement Read By Darrell Verrett
James Byrd Jr.'s Nephew

March 23, 1999

We are here today to ask that you pass the James Byrd Hate Crime's Act in memory of our beloved son.

The last several months have been the most difficult months we have ever lived through as a family. Faith in God and in the goodness of people has helped us survive and see past the racial hatred that killed our son. Although we are seeking justice in the courtroom for James' death, we are also united in our efforts to prevent these senseless acts of hatred. That is the reason we urge you to support the James Byrd Hate Crime Act.

We believe the James Byrd Act will help prevent other families from experiencing the pain of hate crimes. Hate crimes cause our communities to be violently divided because of race, religion, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. We cannot have that kind of painful division any longer.

Preventing hate crimes has to be our priority so that other Texas families do not have to live through the pain of losing someone because of hatred.

As our Texas lawmakers, we ask you to help lead the way to ending hate crimes by passing the James Byrd Hate Crime Act.

   Wired Strategies 
Political Internet Consulting 
Washington, DC   

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