LGBT Hate Crimes Hit a High; Federal Law Needed

Of all hate crimes reported to the FBI in 2007 (the most recent data available), the proportion committed against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals rose to 16.6 percent, the highest level in five years, according to a new LCCREF report.

The report, “Confronting the New Faces of Hate: Hate Crimes in America 2009,” analyzes trends in federal hate crimes data and contains a series of recommendations for action by public officials, civic leaders, and the public.

Hate crimes send a message of terror to an entire group of people, not just the individual victim. According to the FBI, LGBT individuals have been the third most frequent target of hate violence over the past decade.

One of the most infamous hate crimes against an LGBT individual was the torture and murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998.  Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student, was robbed, tortured, tied to a fence in a remote area, and left to die.Prosecutors presented evidence at trial that Shepard was singled out because he was openly gay.

The Senate is expected to vote on its version of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which passed in the House in April. The bill will authorize the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute certain bias-motivated crimes based on the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. Currently, the federal government can only investigate hate crimes motivated by the victim’s race, color, religion, and national origin.

The bill would also provide local authorities with more resources to combat hate crimes and give the federal government jurisdiction over prosecuting hate crimes in states where the current law is inadequate.