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Hate Crimes  
 
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Hate Crimes is a recent category in the law that distinguishes crimes against a person or his or her property when motivated by bias towards a group or groups from the same crimes when not animated by the offending bias. Types of offending bias include crimes motivated by the victim's race, color, religion, national origin, and, more controversially, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Whereas demarcating a category in the law for crimes animated by a desire to inflict some form of harm on a member of a group characterized by its racial heritage or religious beliefs may rest comfortably with most Americans, who tend to react negatively against racial or religious bias, the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity as categories has proved more challenging, perhaps because of the ambiguous social status of gay men, lesbians, and persons in American society, or, in the case of gender, the question of whether it is appropriate to consider crimes of rape or domestic violence, already fairly well-delineated in the criminal law, as hate crimes against women.

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Although the categories sexual orientation and gender identity do not specify which orientations or identities are protected (and indeed all orientations and identities are covered when such categories are included in hate crimes legislation), it is often assumed that such categories convey some kind of "special" rights on homosexuals or transgendered persons.

The challenge has been to persuade Americans that crimes against gay men, lesbians, or transgendered people, when motivated by animus towards all homosexuals or towards homosexuality in general, or toward all transgendered people, merit condemnation, just as do crimes motivated by racial or religious animus.

The Problem

The problem of violence directed against gay men and lesbians and those who do not conform to gender expectations is a serious one. Gay bashing is pervasive in many areas of the world and in the lives of most glbtq people.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force released a report in 1984 that documented the extent of violence directed against glbtq people in the United States. Based on a survey of nearly 2,000 gay men and lesbians in eight cities, the report indicated that almost all of the respondents had experienced some form of verbal, physical, or property-related abuse.

Gay men, lesbians, and transgendered people are less likely to report abuse than other groups, largely because of fear of police brutality or public exposure. Some sources indicate that as much as 90 percent of all antigay crime goes unreported.

In response to the problem of violence directed toward members of the glbtq community, many organizations, usually in larger cities, have formed anti-violence task forces and patrols, aimed at creating safe spaces for members of the community, opening dialogue with police authorities, and gathering statistics regarding the prevalence of hate crimes in the glbtq community. Others have monitored courtrooms to make certain that individuals charged with hate crimes are prosecuted fully. Still others have campaigned for hate crimes legislation.

Although the move for hate crimes legislation began in the mid-1980s, some particularly graphic examples of hate crimes against glbtq people in the 1990s gave urgency to the movement, especially the gruesome murders of young transman Brandon Teena in 1993 (the subject of Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir's documentary The Brandon Teena Story [1997] and Kimberly Peirce's feature Boys Don't Cry [1999]), Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard in 1998, and Alabama textile worker Billy Jack Gaither in 1999.

Although these brutal murders were all too familiar to glbtq people, they garnered a great deal of media attention. They thereby made the problem of antigay violence real for the larger public.

Today, over 30 states and the District of Columbia have hate crimes statutes that include sexual orientation. A much smaller number of states also include gender identity protection. Four states have no hate crimes legislation whatsoever.

Federal Hate Crimes Legislation

Perhaps the most important development in hate crimes law is the adoption of federal hate crimes legislation.

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