Joe Biden Tells Matthew Shepard’s Mom That Civil Rights Act Includes LGBTQ People

At CNN's town hall, the former vice president and 2020 candidate told the murder victim's mother about his support for the Equality Act to solidify LGBTQ rights.

Former Vice President Joe Biden told LGBTQ rights figure Judy Shepard on Thursday that passing the Equality Act would come “first and foremost” if he won the presidency in 2020.

Shepard, whose son Matthew Shepard was murdered in 1998 for being gay, asked Biden at CNN’s LGBTQ town hall in Los Angeles how the former senator and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate would reduce hate crimes against LGBTQ people and other marginalized communities.

Biden stressed the importance of passing the Equality Act, which cleared the House earlier this year. It would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to also ban discrimination “on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition of an individual, as well as because of sex-based stereotypes.” The bill’s goal is to provide anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people in areas such as places of employment on a national level.

“That’s important,” he said. “That’s important because it’ll change a whole range of things.”

Matthew Shepard was a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming when he was killed, and his death became one of the country’s most high-profile hate crimes against LGBTQ people. Judy Shepard and her husband, Dennis, founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation, an LGBTQ nonprofit that runs education and advocacy programs.

Biden also said that his administration would track down hate groups and that he believes the correct interpretation of the Civil Rights Act includes LGBTQ people.

“This is a civil rights issue. It’s covered by, in my view ― the court may not agree ― this is a civil rights issue protected by the Civil Rights Act,” he said. “And we should be focusing on how to enforce that. My Justice Department ― and I guess any one of the Democrats’ Justice Department ― will, in fact, do that.”

The Supreme Court is currently divided on whether the Civil Rights Act, or Title VII, protects LGBTQ people from employment discrimination. A key part of the law bans job discrimination based on sex, though some courts in recent years have read the language to include discrimination against LGBTQ people as part of sex discrimination.

Biden’s answers to Judy Shepard’s question were applauded, though the presidential candidate later caused a bit of discomfort in the audience after describing his first public statement supporting same-sex marriage in 2012 as when he “came out.”

“For example, when I came out and ... ,” Biden said before catching himself and restarting with: “When I publicly stated.”

“Coming out” is a term often used to describe when someone chooses to publicly identify as LGBTQ.

CNN hosted the town hall with the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ nonprofit organization.