Civil Rights

Parents of Matthew Shepard use DOJ speech to criticize Barr's stance on gender identity protections

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William Barr

U.S. Attorney General William Barr. Photo from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The parents of Matthew Shepard, a college student murdered because he was gay, criticized the Justice Department’s stance on LGBTQ workplace protections on Wednesday in a speech delivered at an event commemorating a hate-crime law named after their son.

The speech was delivered on behalf of Judy and Dennis Shepard, who were unable to be at the event commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, report the Associated Press, ABC News, the New York Times and CNN.

Matthew Shepard was beaten and tied to a split-rail fence in 1998. He died six days later. That same year, James Byrd, a black man, was murdered by white men who chained him to a pickup truck and dragged him along the road.

The Shepards said they found it hypocritical for U.S. Attorney General William Barr to invite them to an event commemorating the hate-crime law while also asking the U.S. Supreme Court to allow the legalized firing of transgender employees.

“Mr. Barr, you cannot have it both ways,” the Shepards said in a statement delivered on their behalf by Cynthia Deitle, programs and operations director for the Matthew Shepard Foundation. “If you believe that employers should have the right to terminate transgender employees, just because they are transgender, then you believe they are lesser than and not worthy of protection. If so, you need not invite us to future events at the Department of Justice that are billed as celebrating the law that protects these same individuals from hate crimes. Either you believe in equality for all or you don’t. We do not honor our son by kowtowing to hypocrisy.”

At issue in the gender identity case is whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects transgender workers from workplace discrimination. The Justice Department has also argued that Title VII does not protect people based on sexual orientation.

The hate-crime law, passed in October 2009, provided additional funding and options for hate-crime prosecutions. The law was the first to criminalize violence against members of the LGBTQ community, the Shepards said.

The Shepards also said Barr should take a stand “to disavow and condemn any person who fuels the fires of hate with their words and actions. He must lead and demonstrate his refusal to accept hate in all its manifestations. He must demonstrate courage, even if it means disagreeing with the administration. So far, he has done none of these deeds.”

The Shepards did praise career Justice Department employees who “truly believe in protecting all Americans from injustice.”

Some in the audience gave Deitle a standing ovation after she delivered the speech. Barr was not at the event.

A Justice Department press release did not mention the speech. In opening remarks, Eric Dreiband, the head of the department’s civil rights division, said more than 70 people have been charged with hate crimes during the Trump administration. Dreiband also spoke about initiatives to increase the reporting of hate crimes and improve police response to the crimes.

Hat tip to @Alex_Mallin.

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