Parents of Matthew Shepard slam AG William Barr in DOJ speech
The family of Matthew Shepard, whose death led to the creation of a hate crimes law, criticized Attorney General William Barr for his hypocrisy during a speech at the Justice Department.
The event was for the 10th anniversary of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was named for Shepard and James Byrd, Jr.
Shepard was a 21-year old Wyoming gay man who was brutally killed in a homophobic attack in 1998. Byrd was a black man killed by white supremacists in 1998.
Matthew Shepard’s parents speak out against Barr
On the anniversary of the passage of the law, Cynthia Deitle, the programs and operations director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, delivered the speech written by Shepard’s parents, Judy and Dennis.
Speaking at the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Great Hall, Deitle delivered the speech slamming Barr for his hypocrisy: “Mr. Barr, you cannot have it both ways.”
“We find it interesting and hypocritical that he would invite us to this event commemorating a hate crime law named after our son and Mr. Byrd, while at the same time asking the Supreme Court to allow the legalized firing of transgender employees,” she said.
Deitle, a former FBI agent, added: “If you believe that employers would 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 form hate crimes,” she said.
In their statement, the Shepards said Barr “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 parents proclaimed.
Absences mark commemorative event for hate crime law
The Shepards further lauded the DOJ employees that had worked over the years to implement and enforce the said law.
After Deitle finished reading the speech, many of the guests at the event rose for a standing ovation.
Deitle apologized for the absence of Shepard’s parents to the event as they were traveling.
Barr also wasn’t present for the event, and was represented by Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband, the chief of the Justice Department’s civil rights division.
Dreiband had spoke earlier during the event, promising the DOJ’s commitment to prosecute hate crimes.
“Hate crimes threaten the health of our community life and a decade after the passage of the Shepard Byrd Act and more than 20 years after the brutal murders of the men for whom it was named, prosecuting hate crimes remains a top priority here at the Department of Justice,” Dreiband said.
Dreiband further said that under the Trump administration, the DOJ has charged more than 70 people with crimes motivated by hate in 2018 and 2019.
The legacy of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr.
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed by then-President Barack Obama in 2009.
Shepard had been beaten and tied to a split-rail fence on a dirt road near Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. Police said the two attackers had targeted him because he was gay.
Meanwhile, Byrd from East Texas was chained to the back of a truck and dragged along a secluded road in 1998.
With this law, the 1969 federal hate crimes law was expanded to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
The Justice Department, under the leadership of Barr, has argued before the Supreme Court that the landmark federal law that bars sex discrimination in the workplace does not cover sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Trump administration has also supported the right of businesses to serve gay people on the basis of religion, while also restricting transgender service members in the military.
They’ve also rescinded protections with regard to bathroom access of transgender students in public schools.