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GLAAD Media Reference Guide - In Focus: Hate Crimes

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In late 2008, the FBI reported that anti-gay hate crimes have been on the rise since 2005. In 2009, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) noted that violent hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people grew by 24% between 2006 and 2007, and another 2% in 2008. NCAVP also reported that the number of bias-related murders of LGBT people in 2008 was the highest seen since 1999.

Media can play a vital role in determining community and law enforcement response to hate crimes. In some cases, local law enforcement still places a low priority on anti-LGBT hate crimes. As a result, police may not investigate the case properly or at all, may re-victimize sur­vivors, and may be unresponsive to families and/or community members seeking information. In cases like these, fair, accurate and inclusive media coverage of the case can motivate law enforcement to better and more transparently investigate and communicate around a hate crime.

Many on the far right downplay or trivialize hate crimes. Some people, particularly many on the far right, generalize that "all crimes are hate crimes." We ask that you offer your readers, viewers or listeners the facts so they may decide for themselves whether a crime victim was targeted because of his or her actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

Inaccurate hate/bias crime reporting can unintentionally support a "gay panic" (i.e., "blame the victim") strategy. Assaults and criminal acts may involve only a single victim, but perpetrators often intend them to send a message that LGBT people are legitimate targets for abuse and vio­lence. (In fact, the victims of some anti-gay hate crimes are heterosexuals who are thought to be gay.) Please report the specifics of a crime and its social implications based on the facts of the case.

Implying that an openly gay or transgender victim shares responsibility for being attacked, or that an attack was justified because of an unwanted romantic or sexual advance (the so-called "gay panic" or "transgender panic" strategy) often biases criminal or legal investigations.

HATE CRIMES LAWS

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 added sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability to the categories covered under federal hate crimes law. As a result, federal hate crimes law now addresses violent crimes based on a victim's race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

State laws on hate crimes vary considerably. Of the 45 states with some kind of hate crimes law that expands law enforcement resources and/or sentencing in cases involving bias-motivated crimes, 31 explicitly include sexual orientation among the law's protected classes, and 12 (plus the District of Columbia) include both sexual orientation and gender identity.

For a list of states with inclusive hate crimes laws, please visit Appendix A: Federal & State Laws & Protections. For information on public opinion regarding inclusive hate crimes laws, please see IN FOCUS: Public Opinion & Polls.


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