WHAT IS A HATE CRIME?
“In law, [a hate crime is] a crime directed at a person on the basis of characteristics such as race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender expression. The concept emerged in the U.S. in the late 1970s, and since then laws have been passed in many U.S. states mandating additional penalties for violent crimes motivated by bias or bigotry against particular groups.” (Encyclopædia Britannica). These actions may be caused by cultural, religious, or political conventions and biases. They may or may not be supported by the country’s legislation.
A hate crime can occur from a single bias, such as transphobia, or it can have multiple biases, such as homophobia and race combined. Additionally, an LGBTQ person may be a victim of a hate crime that is motivated by a racial bias only. While this article focuses primarily on the history and current state of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic violence in the USA, we recognize that much of the LGBTQ community is targeted for hate crimes of multiple biases, with communities of color, transgender women of color, and transgender people at a disproportionate risk.
A BRIEF WORLD HISTORY OF LGBTQ PERSECUTION
Institutionalized discrimination against LGBTQ people goes back to at least 550 BC, with the Abrahamic laws against sexual intercourse between men, as recorded in the Leviticus book of the Bible. Similar laws are found in Ancient Rome, protohistoric Germanic culture and the Middle Assyrian Law.
With the establishment of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire, discrimination intensified into persecution. Homosexual sex was declared illegal circa 400 AD with a condemnation to be publicly burned alive. Homosexuals were thought to be responsible for problems such as “famines, earthquakes, and pestilences.”
Muslim countries have had similar laws from the beginnings of Islam in the seventh century up to the present day.
Homosexuals faced the death penalty throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in France and Italy.
In England, the Buggery Act, punishing sodomy by death, was in place from 1534 until 1861.
While the numbers are uncertain, it is estimated that between 1933 and 1945, the Nazis arrested 100,000 homosexuals, with 50,000 officially sentenced. In Gesellschaft und Homosexualitat: Seminar scholar Rudiger Lautmann estimates that 5,000 to 15,000 of those sentenced were sent to Nazi concentration camps where the death rate may have been as high as 60%.
After the war, the treatment of homosexuals in concentration camps went unacknowledged by most countries, and many men were re-arrested, imprisoned and targeted as “sex-offenders” based off of information from Nazi records. Unlike Jews and other victims, gays were not allowed to claim restitution payments. It was not until the 1980s that governments began to acknowledge this episode, and not until 2002 that the German government apologized to the gay community.
Today, most Western countries have abandoned anti-gay laws, whereas 76 countries still criminalize consensual homosexuality in violation to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In particular, Iran, Sudan, Yemen, Mauritania and Saudi Arabia punish homosexuality with the death penalty. Additionally, homosexuals are one of the demographics routinely horrifically executed by the so-called Islamic state.
Still, even in the most economically and socially developed countries, homophobia and transphobia remains in the moral attitudes of citizens, materialized in the form of everyday discrimination and violent hate crimes.
HATE CRIMES AGAINST LGBTQ IN NORTH AMERICA TODAY
The Anti Violence Project’s (NCAVP) 2013 Hate Violence Report documents 2,001 incidents of anti-LGBTQ violence in 2013. The report reveals multi-year trends such as anti-LGBTQ and HIV-affected hate violence disproportionately impacting transgender women, LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities of color, transgender people, and transgender people of color. Consistent with previous years, gay men represented the largest group of hate violence survivors and victims in 2013, showing that hate violence remains a pervasive and persistent issue for all LGBTQ and HIV-affected people.
Many LGBTQ victims still avoid declaring a hate crime for fear of consequences from the police. The 2013 NCAVP report found that overall, 45% of survivors reported their incidents to the police, a decrease from 56% in 2012. Of those survivors reporting to the police, 32% reported experiencing hostile attitudes in 2013, a slight increase from 27% in 2012. Of those reporting, transgender survivors were particularly likely to experience physical violence at the hands of the police. The report found that transgender survivors were 3.7 times more likely to experience police violence compared to non-transgender survivors and 7 times more likely to experience physical violence when interacting with the police compared to non-transgender survivors.
In the FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics Report of 2013, gender (male or female) and gender identity (transgender and gender nonconformity) were added to the list of bias categories for the first time. This is because data for the report was collected under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act of 2009. The report showed that of the 5,928 single-bias hate crimes committed in 2013, 20.8% were based on sexual orientation, 1402 of those crimes committed against gay men. 48.5% of hate crimes were found to be motivated by race. The report does not categorize multiple bias crimes.
THE MATTHEW SHEPARD ACT / HATE CRIME LEGISLATION in the USA
In 1998, Matthew Shepard, 21 years old, was robbed, tortured and left for dead by two young men. The court failed to charge the two men with a hate crime sentence, sparing them the maximum sentence, as no Wyoming criminal statute provided for such a charge. Public outcry over Matthew Shepard’s brutal death and rise of awareness about violent homophobia, led to several attempts to pass a Federal hate-crime law including sexual-orientation and gender identity. The bill repeatedly failed in congress. Finally, The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd’s Hate Crime Prevention Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama on October 28, 2009. This measure expands the 1969 United States federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. The Act is the first federal law to extend legal protections to transgender persons.
Today, in the US, 31 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico include sexual orientation as a specific hate-crime. Only 17 states the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico actually include both sexual orientation and gender identity. However, many LGBTQ organizations including the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, believe that hate crime law does not in fact stop or even deter violence against LGBTQ people, rather it diverts much needed resources to legislative directives and expands an already deeply corrupt criminal justice system. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act specifically provides major increases in funding for the U.S. Department of Justice and local law enforcement to use in prosecuting these crimes – including special additional resources to go toward prosecution of youth for hate crimes.