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We Asked 19 Senators Who Voted Against LGBT Hate Crime Laws About Orlando

Do they consider the murder of 49 people in a gay bar, many of whom were minorities, to be a hate crime?
June 17, 2016, 6:25pm
Photo via Flickr user gageskidmore

After a lone gunman shot and killed 49 people and injured 53 more in an Orlando gay bar on Saturday night, many Republican senators have tweeted thoughts and prayers to the victims and families—indicting "terrorism" without mentioning the fact that this atrocity was an act of extreme violence motivated by anti-LGBT hatred.

In 1969 the first hate crime protections were introduced into federal American law, prohibiting and establishing sentencing for discrimination and crimes committed on the basis of "race, color, religion or national origin" during specific federally protected events, like voting, and that may interfere with access to the goods or services of venues like movie theaters or restaurants. The law clearly defines the rights of oppressed populations within the United States who face a disproportionate level of discrimination and hate-motivated violence.

Read more: 'Out of All the Clubs in Orlando, It Was Home': Gay Floridians React to Shooting

Thirty-nine years later, in June of 1998, a black man named James Byrd, Jr., was killed by white supremacists in Texas, dragged behind a truck until his arm and head were severed from his body. In October of that year, a young gay man named Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence, tortured, and killed in Laramie, Wyoming. But neither of these crimes could be prosecuted under existing hate crime legislation, because the law only covered federally protected activities—Byrd didn't qualify—and did not protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation.

In 2009, 50 years after the first hate crime laws were passed, an amendment was made to federal hate crime law. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act expanded the law to include protections for gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, perceived gender or sexual orientation, and disability and also eliminated the federally protected activity requirement.

Earlier this week, Vox compiled a list of the 19 Republican senators who are still in Congress that voted against the Matthew Shepard Act. In the wake of the horror in Orlando, politicians who have worked against legislative equality for LGBT Americans have been criticized as part of a culture of intolerance that contributes to anti-gay hate. Anderson Cooper demonstrated this when he interviewed Republican Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi: Cooper pointed out that the support Bondi has offered to LGBT Floridians after the Orlando shooting is brand new; she has worked against LGBT equality in her state, stating that gay marriage would "impose significant public harm."

Read more: The Celebrities Staying Strangely Silent About the Orlando Shooting

Broadly contacted the 19 Republican senators who voted against the 2009 LGBT hate crime law. We called them twice, and emailed them twice, to ask if they consider the massacre in Orlando a hate crime, and whether they regret voting against the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Only one senator, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, responded to Broadly's request for comment. When asked if Senator McConnell considered the events in Orlando to constitute a hate crime, McConnell's representative referred Broadly to the speeches on McConnell's website. When asked if Senator McConnell regretted not voting for the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act, McConnell's representative declined to comment. When asked if Senator McConnell publicly supports LGBT people, McConnell's representative said, "He is for equal rights."