I’ve spent a lot of time recently researching gay hate crimes, especially those based here in Utah. Across history, there have been far more than you think, and most of them are never reported as hate crimes. As I talk about this research with others, I find how little understanding there is regarding what a hate crime actually is.
A hate crime is defined quite simply as “a crime motivated by racial, sexual, or other prejudice, typically one involving violence.” A crime. A crime can be a robbery, an assault, a sexual assault, any form of abuse, vandalism, battery, unjust denial of rights, unfair discrimination or harassment in the workplace or community, or murder.
When people do think of ‘gay hate crimes’, they tend to only think of “gay-bashing”, in which someone is beat or harmed for being gay, or, in extreme cases, murder. And they usually think of young gay men, not transgender women. They don’t think of rape or abuse or discrimination. And when you ask people to list victims of hate crime, generally only one name comes to mind: Matthew Shephard.
It’s important to understand hate crimes so that we can work to not only educate about them and prevent them, but to prosecute people accordingly. There is a substantial difference between a violent crime against a person, and a violent crime against a person who is targeted because of their minority status. We must protect our citizens, no matter who they love or what religion they practice or what gender identity they embrace.
Below are five brief examples of different kinds of hate crimes. And while you may think that cases like this are rare, chances are you personally know someone who has been the victim of more than one of these crimes, and chances are you personally know at least one person who has committed one of these crimes.
- Mike and Brad walked down the road hand in hand, chatting idly about their days, when the older man saw them. He crossed the street and began to taunt the gay couple softly with hateful words. He walked just a few feet behind them, muttering “faggots” and “sissies” and he told them quietly that they weren’t safe there, that they should go back where they came from, that he and his friends would teach them a lesson if they ever returned. He kept his voice low so no one else could here. The man followed them for two full blocks as they walked swiftly, hearts pounding and hands clutched tightly, hoping they were safe before he finally turned away.
- Jan was only out as bisexual to a few friends in college. She had a boyfriend now, but in high school she’d had a girlfriend, and she got different things from her relationships with women than she did with men. She’d had two drinks at the party when Adam started bragging to Jan that she wouldn’t like chicks if she had had a real man. She tried laughing it off, but he wouldn’t let it drop. And she didn’t notice when he dropped the GHB into her drink. Later, he got her alone and she lay unconscious while he raped her in her own bed. The next morning, when she woke up, he was still next to her.
- Tyler’s dad hit him for the first time when he was 6 years old. Tyler had been mimicking the moves of the dancers on television, and his dad angrily struck him, saying no son of his would grow up to be a fag. Throughout the rest of his childhood, Tyler learned to act tough, to pretend to be interested in sports, and to always talk about the girls he liked, because the moment his dad saw any sort of “weakness” or femininity, Tyler ended up hit. When Tyler was 12, Tyler’s mother told him to just wait until he was 18, then he could finally be himself out on his own, but that seemed like an eternity away, and his nose was bloody now from the latest blow, and he wondered if the world would be a better place without him in it.
- Jacqueline knew it was dangerous to walk home by herself, she’d heard the stories. But it was midnight and she had to work in the morning, and she didn’t want to stay out with her friends until the club closed. Tonight she was in a gorgeous black dress with heels, and she had on a gorgeous blonde wig with red fingernails and lipstick; she felt like a million bucks. In the morning, she would just be Jack again and back at her desk job, where her coworkers had no idea she was really a woman inside. Jacqueline stepped into the crosswalk in front of her building when the car hit her. She never knew who it was inside it, but she hit the ground and moments later felt the car back over her again, and then again before it drove away. She heard the man yell “FAG!” as he drove away, and then she fell unconscious, head bleeding and bones broken. She lay there for several minutes before someone noticed and called the ambulance.
- Alison looked at the picture of her wife and newborn son on her desk at work and she smiled. She had never believed a life like this was possible, her legally married with a son at home, in a beautiful apartment in the city and with a job as a paralegal that she loved. That afternoon, she was called into the Human Resources office, where the director informed her that there had been… complaints… (there had been such weight to that word) about Alison flaunting her lifestyle in the office. It was bad for morale, she was told, and it was affecting productivity. The company regretted it, she was told, but they felt it was best for Alison to pack up her things and look for work in an environment that was more supportive of Alison’s lifestyle (that word again). Alison placed her family picture in the cardboard box of belongings and walked out, tears streaming down her face.
At this point in my life, I know hundreds of LGBT people. Very few of those I know have been the victims of violent or blatant hate crimes. But nearly everyone I know has experienced discrimination in some form for being gay–the dirty looks from people on the street, the hateful words from family members, or the refusal of service at a restaurant. It has never been easier for LGBT people to find love and acceptance. But hate crimes still happen, and our history is full of them. It’s important to talk about them, to understand where we come from, and to open dialogues about the dangers we face.
Because every human deserves to feel safe and to have basic protections in place.