Hate Crimes Against LGBT People in the United States
- Liz CostonLiz CostonGender, Sexuality and Women's Studies, Virginia Commonwealth University
Hate crimes (or bias crimes) are crimes motivated by an offenders’ personal bias against a particular social group. Modern hate crimes legislation developed out of civil rights protections based on race, religion, and national origin; however, the acts that constitute a hate crime have expanded over time, as have the groups protected by hate crimes legislation. Anti-LGBT hate crimes, in which victims are targeted based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBT people are highly overrepresented as victims of hate crimes given the number of LGBT people in the population, and this is especially true of hate crimes against transgender women.
Despite the frequency of these crimes, the legal framework for addressing them varies widely across the United States. Many states do not have specific legislation that addresses anti-LGBT hate crimes, while others have legislation that mandates data collection on those crimes but does not enhance civil or criminal penalties for them, and some offer enhanced civil and/or criminal penalties. Even in states that do have legislation to address these types of hate crimes, some states only address hate crimes based on sexual orientation but not those based on gender identity. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act gives the federal government the authority to prosecute those crimes regardless of jurisdiction; however, this power has been used in a limited capacity.
Hate crimes are distinct from other crimes that are not motivated by bias. For example, thrill seeking, retaliation, or the desire to harm or punish members of a particular social group often motivates perpetrators of hate crimes; these motivations often result in hate crimes being more violent than other similar crimes. The difference in the motivation of offenders also has significant consequences for victims, both physically and mentally. Victims of hate crimes are more likely to require medical attention than victims of non-bias crimes. Likewise, victims of hate crimes, and especially anti-LGBT hate crimes, often experience negative psychological outcomes, such as PTSD, depression, or anxiety as a result of being victimized for being a member of an already marginalized social group.