Crimes of Hate: The Stark Reality of Hate Crimes Against the LGBT Community

Attacks against gay community often go unreported out of fear of retribution


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And there's a cyclical fear behind hate crimes.

"The thread that ties it all together--whether it is neo-Nazis or anti-gay churches or individuals who are engaged in acts of violence--is an ambivalence or fear of the rapid pace of change in our society. Some people embrace change as an opportunity and a good thing, but there are others--mainly straight, white males--who see change as undermining their natural authority and, therefore, they need to fight back against it in any way, shape or form. And some of this is through mainstream politics--the conservative, right wing of our democratic system--but some of it is through what we call hate crime," he said.

That fear stems from what sociologists call a backlash, or a negative response to oppressed people gaining rights or power in society. The Civil Rights Movement saw a backlash against blacks through lynchings, beatings and challenges to affirmative action. The Women's Movement saw a backlash in the form of legislation that aimed to curtail reproductive freedom and from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, who coined the term "femi-nazi" and, more recently, called a women's health advocate a "slut."

"The term that we often use in sociology is this idea of a zero-sum game. The idea that if some group without power gains some power, the perception among people with power is that they are somehow losing power and, therefore, they have to push back--they have to push back against affirmative action or they have to push back against feminism or they push back against gay rights," Blazak said.

This backlash or plays of the zero-sum game shape anti-gay hate-crime trends. When the fear spikes, the backlash sets in, the zero-sum game is played and people get hurt.

"Around political issues, we get trends. For example, after 9/11, there was a big increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes and then it dropped considerably. But then when [debate] about the mosque at Ground Zero started up, we saw it all over again," Blazak said. "Around presidential elections, there's an increase because the gay civil-rights issue gets used as a sort of political football, and that agitates certain people and that increases attacks on gays, lesbians and other sexual minorities."

Advocates say that countering the LGBT backlash begins with adding protections to state laws that would safeguard sexual-orientation and gender-identity minorities from discrimination.

"It sends a strong message that violence will not be tolerated," said Chai Jindasurat of the New York City Anti-Violence Project.

In Idaho, that would mean adding the words to state statutes to protect Idahoans from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. And those words wouldn't just protect minorities, advocates say. Unlike race or ability, which sometimes carry physical clues, sexual orientation must be revealed. Anti-gay hate crimes are based on presumption, making everyone a target, advocates say. And laws that would protect a gay teen from assault and discrimination could also protect a straight man from the same kinds of bias and attack.

"Civil rights protect everyone," Hopkins said.

Surveys show most people support LGBT civil rights. A December 2011 survey commissioned by ACLU of Idaho and conducted by noted Republican pollster Moore Information found that 78 percent of Idahoans found anti-discrimination legal protection for LGBT acceptable. And a May Gallup poll found that support for gay marriage surpassed the opposition with half of all Americans backing the words, "I do," regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. And LeFavour said many lawmakers were ready to add the words.

"The majority of lawmakers this session knew that 'Adding the Words' was the right thing to do. I think that we reached a critical mass. It's just that politics made it very intimating for some to take on an issue they don't feel comfortable talking about," she said.

Adding the words "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" would change lives, LGBT advocates say.

Hopkins notes that statutes could even change statistics. After the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, the FBI and DOJ began reporting a slow overall decline of race-motivated crime directed at blacks.

Lisa Perry with Add the Words said Idahoans will keep the campaign alive until the message sticks. She said that as long as one group isn't safeguarded from hate crimes and discrimination, we're all vulnerable.

"If we as a society turn a blind eye to a form of discrimination, it makes it easier for other groups to experience discrimination long as all unique individuals aren't safeguarded."


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