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social sciences

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These two gaybashing cases generated widespread publicity regarding hate crimes perpetrated against the glbtq community. Indeed, both crimes inspired well-received films and plays: Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir's documentary The Brandon Teena Story (1998); Kimberly Peirce's feature film Boys Don't Cry (1999); Moises Kaufman and the Techtonic Theater Project's play The Laramie Project (2000, made into an HBO motion picture in 2002); and NBC's The Matthew Shepard Story (2002). These projects, in addition to the original media coverage of the crimes, served to thrust the murders into the public spotlight, and highlighted the need for hate crime legislation.

In particular, Matthew Shepard was viewed with a great deal of compassion in the media. As a young, white, attractive, "normal-looking" college student who was tortured and killed with sensational brutality, Shepard was viewed as the acceptable face of homosexuality to whom sympathy could be given.

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Despite the outpouring of sympathy and concern aroused by Shepard's brutal murder, however, gaybashing incidents still typically go unnoticed in the mainstream media.

In an effort to call attention to the bashing of transgendered individuals, activist Gwen Smith established the website Remembering Our Dead to honor the memory of transgender murder victims, estimated at one person a month. The Remembering Our Dead project spawned the National Day of Remembrance, an annual event begun in 1999, which is now observed in dozens of cities around the world.

Motivations for Gaybashing

Because gaybashing incidents are so under-reported, it is difficult to make generalizations about the frequency of such attacks, as well as the characteristics of the perpetrators. However, according to Karen Franklin, gaybashing is the most socially acceptable, and probably the most common, type of hate crime, especially among male teenagers and young adults.

Franklin has identified four categories of gaybashers. First, there are those who believe that homosexuality is morally wrong. From their perspective, sexual minorities must be attacked in order to enforce social norms and protect the community.

Second, young people who are thrill-seekers may engage in gaybashing because they are bored and want to have some fun, and homosexuals and transsexuals may seem like easy targets to them. A third group is adolescents who, because of peer-dynamics, commit gaybashing assaults in order to prove their toughness and normative sexuality to their friends. A final category consists of males who think that homosexuals are sexual predators, and thus react violently if they believe that a gay person has flirted with them.

Gaybashing is an extremely serious act because of the message that is sent by its perpetrators: Non-normative gender expression and sexual orientation will not be tolerated in our society and, in fact, may legitimately be responded to with violence. This message not only impacts the individual victim, but also spreads fear into the entire glbtq community. The result is that glbtq people often feel vulnerable and unprotected.

Gaybashing also sends the message that whether a person is actually lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, or queer, if they are perceived by others as being so, a negative (and potentially violent) reaction may occur. Hence, gaybashing also tends to reinforce normative sexual behavior and gender expectations.

Andrew Matzner

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Comstock, Gary David. Violence Against Lesbians and Gay Men. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

Franklin, Karen. "Antigay Behaviors by Young Adults: Prevalence, Patterns and Motivators in a Noncriminal Population." Journal of Interpersonal Violence 15.4 (April 2000): 339-62.

Jenness, Valerie, and Kendal Broad. Hate Crimes: New Social Movements and the Politics of Violence. New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1997.

Kantor, Martin. Homophobia: Description, Development, and Dynamics of Gay Bashing. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1998.

Remembering Our Dead Website:


    Citation Information
    Author: Matzner, Andrew  
    Entry Title: Gaybashing  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated August 19, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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