Above: A transgender Day of Remembrance vigil.
The WorldPride Human Rights Conference’s panel on hate crimes saw advocates discussing the state of violent acts against the LGBTQ community, how those incidents are tracked, and what can be done to improve the situation both in the U.S. and worldwide, on Tuesday, June 25, at New York Law School.
The discussion was moderated by Nadia N. Aziz, of the Stop Hate Project, with UN Globe Secretary Gabe Scelta, Matthew Shepard Foundation Executive Director James Marsden, The Dru Project Communications Director Sara Grossman, and The Trevor Project Senior Fellow for Advocacy and Government Affairs, Casey Pick, as panelists.
According to the FBI’s most recently released data, hate crimes rose 17% in 2016, marking the third consecutive year where that was the case. According to the data, African-Americans were the most targeted group in 2017, followed by LGBTQ people, followed by Jewish people.
As Grossman flagged, the 2016 numbers do not include the 49 victims of the Pulse shooting, as officials felt there was not enough evidence the massacre was motivated by anti-LGBTQ and/or anti-Latin bias.
“But if you look at the fact that 49 people were murdered and 53 others were injured in a gay club, on Latin night, how could it have been anything else?” Grossman asked.
The Attorney General has been required to collect data about bias-motivated crimes since 1990, with the passage of the Hate Crime Statistics Act. But, as Marsden noted, there are a number of flaws in the data collection system, including that it relies on voluntary compliance by law enforcement agencies. Not all of them appear up to the task, or, more likely, are simply unwilling to comply.
“Of around 18,000 law enforcement agencies, on any given year, somewhere around 15,000 agencies do submit reports,” said Marsden.
“The vast majority of those reports indicate zero hate crimes during that year within that jurisdiction. We know from federal criminal victimization surveys, which are conducted annually, that there are probably between 180,000-240,000 bias-motivated crimes in total in the United States annually. Any given year, the FBI report itemizes about 6,000.”
“Somewhere between law enforcement agencies not complying voluntarily with the reporting requirement, and sociological data indicated about two thirds of hate crime victims never report the crimes to anyone, police or otherwise, and failure of departments which do comply with the reporting but don’t have good record keeping practices, the vast majority of all hate crimes aren’t visible to policymakers, as a result of these failures in the system.”
He added that the Matthew Shepard Foundation has worked to “mandate that departments which receive grants under the Byrne criminal justice system funding at the federal level be required to be compliant with reporting, that that reporting be made mandatory in statue, and that police receive training in how to properly collect and steward this data, and provide transparency around it.”
Some states have already tied grant funding of law enforcement agencies to their reporting of such data, but that isn’t always enforced, he pointed out.
The patchwork of state laws on the issue also makes the situation more precarious.
“Today, we have 19 states [with] hate crime law specifically mentioning sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Pick. “We’ve got another 13 which only include sexual orientation. We’ve got one state, Tennessee, which manages to explicitly interpret its hate crime law to include sexual orientation and gender identity, though the text does not state gender identity specifically. You’ve got another 15 states that do have hate crime laws but do not include either sexual orientation or gender identity, and then there are the four states that have no hate crime law at all.”
Some states, though not all, also have data reporting requirements in place.
Scelta noted the situation internationally was worse, with some 72 countries that still have laws making same-sex acts illegal. He drew a parallel between states that claim there were no hate crimes committed in their jurisdiction with countries that deny they even have LGBTQ citizens. Obviously, those countries are not reporting bias-motivated crimes.
He also reported the findings—which he said surprised many but not himself—of a recent survey within the global UN system that found “more than 50% of our LGBT U.S. staff have experienced harassment or discrimination in some way within their workplace.”
“And this is the workplace that should be looking out for all of those things,” he added. “So, we have quite a ways to go internally, but we also are working to make that seen externally, too.”
Pick said it was important to be aware that the issue of hate crime laws is “not uncontroversial, within even the LGBTQ community.”
“There are those who wonder if there is any benefit to them, given low rates of enforcement, and there are others who will certainly call out concerns about any further interaction of law enforcement with LGBTQ people,” she continued. “[There is also] the possibility that we could be seeing hate crime laws over-enforced against people of color as perpetrators. There’s an intersectionality question to be thinking about here.”
Controversy around false reporting is also an issue, Pick said.
“One high profile hate crime hoax makes it almost impossible to get in the door with a lawmaker to try to promote this kind of legislation, or to promote things like better data collection.”
Marsden spotlighted the need for a larger societal shift in order to truly bring an end to the epidemic of anti-LGBTQ violence.
“The best thing we could do to protect persons in our community from violence is probably not a law enforcement solution. It’s an economic justice solution,” he said.
“I think as long as we live in a world where trans persons are precluded from mainstream employment, have negative health and economic outcomes—to some extent, gay and lesbian persons experience the same phenomena—if we could find a way to lift those boats, it would go much farther toward preventing violent and otherwise tragic outcomes from occurring to our community members than any passing of a law would stand a chance of doing.”