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New information from the FBI shows that hate crime based on sexual orientation increased in 2003.
The FBI’s “Hate Crime Statistics 2003” reports 1,430 hate crimes based on sexual orientation, putting this category at the second highest after race bias. Sexual orientation previously ranked third, behind race and religion.
The total number of hate crimes reported by the FBI in 2003 was 8,715, with 16.4 percent based on the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation.
According to Jeffrey Montgomery, Triangle Foundation executive director and co-chair of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, the FBI numbers do not reflect the true picture of hate crime against gays.
“There’s a huge problem with the FBI report … especially when it comes to anti-GLBT incidents. They are dramatically under counted by the FBI,” he said. “There is no accounting anywhere in that report for violence targeting transgender people, which is another problem.”
One of the reasons for the under reporting, said Montgomery, is the way hate crime statistics are gathered. The FBI relies on local law enforcement to report hate crimes. However, many local law enforcement agencies are not required to track crimes motivated by anti-gay bias. For example, sexual orientation is not included in Michigan’s hate crime laws, making it difficult for local law enforcement agencies in Michigan to keep track of that data.
“Also, like so many other things the government does, it’s an unfunded deal.” Local law enforcement agencies often don’t have the funding, experience, or tools to track the data. “There’s no real incentive for them to bother to determine if there’s a hate crime, much less what the motivation is,” said Montgomery.
The FBI report breaks down statistics county by county. “We have always referred to it as the book of zeros because it’s page after page of zeros across the board – because local law enforcement isn’t given the resources it needs to gather the data.”
“The mechanism is very flawed. The FBI gets most of these statistics through the authority of the Hate Crimes Statistic Act which was passed in the early 90s and it’s confusing to many people, not least of all the FBI,” said Montgomery. “While the federal government has no official recognition of sexual orientation-based crime through any of its hate crime statutes, the act mandates that law enforcement has to report hate crimes based on certain statistics and sexual orientation is one of those criteria.”
The Local Law Enforcement Act, a federal hate crime measure that includes sexual orientation, has yet to pass both the U.S. House and Senate. According to the Human Rights Campaign, “This summer, the U.S. Senate amended the defense authorization bill to include [LLEEA] on a bipartisan vote of 65-33 with 18 Republicans voting in favor. On a procedural vote in September, the House voted in favor of keeping the hate crimes measure in the defense authorization bill by a bipartisan vote of 213-186. However, the provision was stripped in conference committee.”
Montgomery is quick to point out that he thinks the Hate Crimes Statistics Act is a great thing. “It’s the only major piece of fed legislation that says anything about sexual orientation and I’m not criticizing the act, I’m criticizing the fact that the government didn’t put any money behind this.”
The NCAVP, a nationwide coalition of over 20 LGBT victim advocacy and documentation programs, reports higher numbers than the FBI when it comes to hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity bias.
“Let’s face it, we’re limited because … we grossly undercover the country,” said Montgomery. “There are whole giant significant regions of the country that don’t even have a GLBT anti-violence project anywhere near them. Having said that, NCAVP reports somewhere between 2,000 and 2,100 incidents a year and that’s only in these 11 regions that are covered.”
That number is most likely too low, said Montgomery. “The FBI said this year there were something like 1,400 [hate crimes] and if they’re claiming that represents the national number, well they are about 700 off then by what we have in only 11 regions. So there’s clearly a flaw in the way they do it,” he said. “I don’t think it’s one of these sins of omission, I just think that they’re not built to do it and the system is not encouraging of law enforcement to do it.”
NCAVP reporting is flawed because the individual agencies providing data have their own limitations. “Triangle attempts to capture this information for the whole state of Michigan, and we’ve never claimed that the number we’re reporting is the whole number either,” he said. “I’m not trying to say that the NCAVP’s numbers are accurate, but at least we believe that our numbers are more accurate than the numbers from the FBI.”
Regardless, both sets of numbers show hate crimes based on sexual orientation rising. Michigan reflects this trend.
“Over the last four or five years we’ve been pretty consistent at somewhere about 120 incidents a year in Michigan,” said Montgomery. “Obviously we don’t have the figures complied yet for 2004, but I can tell you that since the campaign that we just went through, the month or so leading up to and even since the passage of Proposal 2, we have seen what appears to us to be an increase in the number of incidents being reported.”
Montgomery said the increase could be attributed to several factors, including “the level of inflaming that took place from the other side about gay and lesbian people, and also I think that as this campaign reignited a certain level of the awareness of how important it is to be active and political people may be reporting these things when before they might not have.”
The anti-gay Proposal 2 campaign and passage has put LGBT people at risk, said Montgomery. “There are always people out there who believe that they have some right to assault gay people, and … there’s some suppression of that kind of feeling,” he said. “But with the kind of campaign that we’ve just gone through with Proposal 2, that suppression is lifted and emboldens those who now feel justified to do it.”