Hate CrimesHomosexual people make up ten percent of the population; that means if you are sitting in a classroom of thirty, then more than likely three of those people are gay. However, this overwhelmingly large minority group continues to be one of the least protected by the government as well as most heavily targeted by discrimination and hate crimes. Regardless of the powerful shift in public opinion on homosexuality during the last twenty years and the outcry for more government intervention in the case of hate crimes and other such atrocities, the laws have remained invariable.
A hate crime is an act of aggression against an individual’s actual or perceived race, ethnicity, religions, disability, sexual orientation, or gender. Examples include assault and battery, vandalism, or threats which involve bias indicators – pieces of evidence like bigoted name-calling or graffiti.
These crimes do not target the individuals who are physically or verbally battered but the community the individual is or is thought to be a member on a whole. These offenses are far more damaging since they attack someone for who they are rather than what they have done or possess. They also tear at the fragile existence of a society by making them feel isolated and vulnerable.
Currently there are only two federal laws and 21 states, plus the District of Columbia, which protect sexual minorities from hate crimes, and both federal laws are worthless in persecuting nearly all cases reported. The first, the Hate Crimes Statistics Act, merely requires the FBI to collect and examine hate crime statistics given to them from state and local law enforcement agencies. However, these statistics must be volunteered from the agencies, which leaves a rather large loophole for bigoted agents to crawl through; therefore, many statistics are massively misrepresented. One state, Alabama, reported that there were no hate crimes whatsoever in their last poll, which is ridiculously unlikely.
The other hate crime law in effect is the Hate Crime Sentencing Act, passed in 1994. It states that perpetrators of a hate crime are to be given not less than three offense levels for offenses that the finder of fact at trial determines beyond a reasonable doubt are hate crimes. This law, however is only in effect if someone is attacked on federal property, such as a national park or Indian reservation, while trying to perform a constitutionally protected right, such as vote or attend school. Because of these limitations a gay man from Shreveport who was beaten to death while waiting for a cab outside of a gay bar would not be protected by the hate crime legislation or a certain Matthew Shepard who was attacked while walking down the streets of Laramie, Wyoming.
Hate crimes performed against homosexuals are on the rise as well. The 1996 FBI statistics state that anti-gay hate crimes account for 11.6% of all hate crimes data collected. Though the overall average is down by 1.2% from the year prior the crimes are far more violent and public. There were five more arson reports, ten more reports of crimes committed in commercial buildings, and crimes committed in private residences rose from 267 to 318.
These statistics are terrifying, but what makes it even more horrendous is that they are merely the tip of a colossal iceberg; a vast majority of hate crimes go unreported. This is especially evident with the gay community where many members who are attacked feel by reporting the crime they will be outted to family, friends, and co-workers who are not aware of their alternative lifestyle. One distressing example of this occurred as a result of a bombing of a predominantly lesbian bar, The Otherside Lounge, in Atlanta in February 1997. Five bar patrons were injured severely enough to be taken to the hopistal by ambulance. However, one victim who had a shrapnel wound refused to be treated when she saw media swarming the hospital emergency room.
Some people also fear re-victimization from police. This can and has included verbal or physical beatings from the police, reluctance to report the crime, as well as laying blame on the victim for the crime, stating things like If you dressed like you’re supposed to, maybe they wouldn’t have hit you. Most importantly, perhaps, is that in areas which are not protected by hate crime laws, many people feel that reporting these crimes to the authorities would be futile, draining time and energy that the victim may be unwilling to relinquish. If laws were in place, most believe that there would be a large influx of reported crimes.
Many people believe that hate crimes are unnecessary because they are punishing a perpetrator twice for the same offense, this is untrue. The punishment levied is merely an addition to the original sentence. This is because the crime is not merely an attack on an individual; it is aimed at the community on a whole and is used to spawn fear in its denizens. Therefore, the added penalty is a placed upon the person for the malicious ultimate intent of the crime, not the crime itself. Not only this, but studies show that victims of hate crimes show two to three times as many symptoms of trauma than victims of the same crime under alternate motivations .
The Religious Right is also strongly against granting rights to homosexuals, for they believe that the lifestyle is sinful and contrary to Christian doctrine. The infamous anti-gay line in the Old Testament is found in Leviticus 18:22 and states You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. However, many congregations have rebuked this idea because of Romans 4:13 where Paul states For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith; this claims that Jesus’s arrival nullifies any statements made in the Old Testament. Nowhere in the New Testament is there scripture denoting homosexuality.
Hate crime laws would not give any special privileges to minority groups which could not likewise be used against them. All of the laws that are hoped to be passed would protect majority groups the same as it does those normally targeted for hate crimes. Nor would these laws restrict Americans First Amendment right to the freedom of speech; they would berate the criminal action which is already punishable in courts.
Hate crime legislation is needed. Crimes are on the upswing, becoming more public, more violent, and more acceptable in certain places of society. Without the proposed laws there is little chance that this shall become any less prevalent. As NGLTF, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a well-respected agency who fights for equal rights for homosexuals, stated in their December 1997 article, the exclusion or removal of sexual orientation from hate crimes legislation by law makers is morally indefensible at a time when anti-gay violence is widespread. Failure to address this critical problem sends a dangerous message to law enforcement and the public that anti-gay violence does not exist, or worse, is somehow less reprehensible than violence against other minorities.