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Are Violent Hate Crimes Against LGBT People on the Rise?

Examining the data to see if anti-LGBT hate crimes are on the rise.

The recent wave of violent attacks against LGBT people in New York City has been startling.  According to New York City police the number of antigay hate crimes has doubled from 14 to 29 as of May.  In the LGBT community many people think of New York City as a place of acceptance and progressive attitudes, which is why these violent attacks are even more alarming.  How does this compare to national data?  According to the FBI’s Hate Crime’s Data the number of reported hate crimes overall is going down (e.g., 21% for African Americans since 1996), but hate crimes based on sexual orientation are not declining.  In fact the number of reported anti-gay hate crimes rose slightly in 2011 to 1,553 from 1,443 in 1996.  This means there are currently similar levels of anti-gay hate crimes as there are hate crimes based on religion (1,480), but about half those based on race (3,645). The majority (57%) were victims of an offender’s anti-male gay bias.  Note that the FBI does not report statistics about anti-transgender hate crimes and that these data only represent hate crimes that are reported to the policy and then to the FBI.

Another data source is the recently released report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, which draws on data collected from 15 anti-violence programs in 16 states.  The 2012 report documents 2,016 incidents of anti-LGBTQ violence in 2012 (a slight 4% decrease from 2011), and highlights a number of disturbing multi-year trends of severe anti-LGBTQ violence.   In 2012, NCAVP documented 25 anti-LGBTQ homicides in the United States. This continues a multiyear trend in high anti-LGBTQ homicide rates nationally (30 were reported in 2011, the highest ever), and is the 4th  highest yearly total ever recorded by the Coalition.  Like the FBI report, these numbers are likely an underestimate  as they leave out crimes that go unreported or unrecognized as a hate crime.

Looking at the report by demographics, LGBTQ people of color were 1.82 times as likely to experience physical violence compared to White LGBTQ people, and gay men were 1.56 times as likely to require medical attention compared to other survivors reporting. The report also found that transgender people were 1.67 times as likely to experience threats and intimidation compared to LGBTQ non-transgender survivors and victims.

These two data sources suggest that the past several years have in fact been the highest levels of reported anti-LGBT violence.  Why might this be, given that the LGBT community is advancing in so many other ways (like passage of same-sex marriage in several states, repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, change in Boy Scout’s policy to allow gay scouts)?  It could be that individuals who hate LGBT people are reacting violently to the community’s progress.  It could also be that with greater acceptance, more LGBT people are reporting crimes to the police.  For the safety of our community, this issue deserves further study.

Dr. Mustanski is the Director of the IMPACT LGBT Health and Development Program at Northwestern University. You can follow the Sexual Continuum blog by becoming a fan on Facebook. He periodically live tweets from research conferences on sexuality and you can follow him@sexualcontinuum.

Photo Credit and Caption

President Barack Obama greets Louvon Harris, left, Betty Byrd Boatner, right, both sisters of James Byrd, Jr., and Judy Shepard, center, mother of Matthew Shepard, following his remarks at a reception commemorating the enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in the East Room of the White House, Oct. 28, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza).

Copyright Brian Mustanski