Tonight, the United States Attorney for the District of Arizona is hosting an event that may be worth attending. And some may be surprised it’s being held at all.

It is the second in a series of Community Civil Rights Forums that U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke is holding. (The first was held on July 6, and we wrote about it the next day.)

Tonight’s event is billed as a forum with Arizona’s gay community. The news peg is the anniversary of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

(This forum is scheduled the same day that we learned the U.S. Attorney’s Office is investigating allegations of misconduct against the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. No shrinking violets, these prosecutors.)

Did you think that Obama administration officials would lay low until after the November elections? Burke’s committing to a forum on gay civil rights may be a fly in that political ointment. (Perhaps they predicted that it was going to be a rocky month at the ballots for them—no matter what they did.)

Dennis Burke, United States Attorney for the District of Arizona

Of course, it’s true that Burke’s topic of “hate crimes” seeks to keep tonight’s conversation narrowly focused. But announcing an event with the words “gay” and “civil rights” in the same sentence could be felt like a sharp stick in the eye to certain portions of Arizona’s conservative populace.

And he may not get much love from the other side, either. The gay, lesbian and transgender community supported this administration, and probably still does. But their support has tempered over the past year and a half as they saw the president take what they view as half measures and tentative steps toward their positions.

They had hoped for Obama’s full-throated support, and got quite a bit less.

Will anyone at tonight’s event press the speakers on things like civil unions, or “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”? Activists nationally have been vocal in asking about what they see as an unequal timeline on a path toward equal civil rights. Will they be vocal tonight?

Of course, the President won’t be at the Mercado tonight; Dennis Burke will. Continued props to him for fostering an ongoing conversation about civil rights in the United States. But how wide-ranging will that conversation be?

Unfortunately, I have a conflict and cannot attend. If anyone reading this plans to be there, please contact me (at tomorrow—I’d like to hear how it went. And if you take photos, even better!

Here is the complete release.


Forum on hate crimes law to occur on anniversary of Matthew Shepard attack

PHOENIX – United States Attorney Dennis K. Burke will hold a Civil Rights Forum focused on the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community Wednesday October 6, 2010 from 6 to 7:30 p.m.  It will be at the ASU Mercado in downtown Phoenix.  The public is encouraged to attend.

At the forum, Burke will talk about the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act signed into law last year by President Barack Obama.  He will also discuss how victims can report hate crimes and official police misconduct.   

The date of the forum coincides with the anniversary of the fatal attack on gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard.  He was brutally beaten and tortured after meeting two men in a Laramie, Wyoming bar late on the night of October 6, 1998 and died days later.  Shepard was targeted because of his sexual orientation.

“We hold community sessions like this to inform people of their rights,” said Burke.  “The Department of Justice has a duty to protect the civil rights of all individuals from hate crimes or law enforcement misconduct.  I feel strongly people should have confidence to report violations to this office.”

The forum will bring together local community leaders, the U.S. Attorney and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to discuss the Department of Justice’s role in civil rights matters.  For more information on the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Arizona, visit

WHAT:  Civil Rights Forum focused on the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

WHO:  U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona Dennis K. Burke, FBI representatives and local community leaders.

WHEN:  Wednesday, October 6, 2010 from 6 to 7:30 p.m.  Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

WHERE: ASU Mercado, Room C-145, 502 E. Monroe Street, Phoenix.