GLAAD Media Reference Guide - In Focus: Hate Crimes

In its 2012 report, the FBI recognized 1,376 victims of hate crimes targeted due to their sexual orientation - 19.6 percent of all hate crimes reported. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) reported that 2013 saw a 21% increase in reports of physical hate violence toward LGBT people - noting that people of color and transgender people are disproportionally targeted. NCAVP reported that 90% of all LGBT homicide victims were people of color, and 72% of homicide victims were transgender women.

Avoid re-victimizing transgender people who have suffered violence. Transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, are disproportionately affected by hate violence. Sadly, the tragedy of these incidents is often compounded by reporting that does not respect (or sometimes even exploits) the victim's transgender identity. Often, reporters writing about transgender victims of violent crimes will be given incorrect or incomplete information from police, from witnesses, or even from family and friends of the victim. GLAAD has a special report on how to fairly and accurately report on crimes with transgender victims. Please click here to find detailed recommendations on how to fairly and accurately cover crimes involving transgender victims.

Providing context. The transgender community is one of the most marginalized and discriminated against communities in our society. If a transgender victim was in a difficult or unfortunate situation at the time of a violent crime, try to provide your audience with some context. Please visit glaad.org/transgender for statistics that will help you provide context about the unemployment, poverty, and discrimination faced by transgender people. For additional information about discrimination faced by the transgender community, please see "Injustice at Every Turn," a report issued by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality.

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.

Assaults and criminal acts may involve only a single victim, but perpetrators often intend to send a message that LGBT people are legitimate targets for abuse and violence. (In fact, the victims of some anti-LGBT hate crimes are heterosexuals who are thought to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.) Please report the specifics of a crime and its social implications based on the facts of the case.

Inaccurate hate/bias crime reporting can unintentionally support a "gay panic" (i.e., "blame the victim") strategy. Implying that a gay, lesbian, bisexual 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) is never acceptable. 

In August 2013, the American Bar Association issued the following statement "...the American Bar Association urges federal, state, local and territorial governments to take legislative action to curtail the availability and effectiveness of the 'gay panic' and 'trans panic' defenses, which seek to partially or completely excuse crimes such as murder and assault on the grounds that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for the defendant’s violent reaction."

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 states with some kind of hate crimes law that expands law enforcement resources and/or sentencing in cases involving bias-motivated crimes, some explicitly include sexual orientation among the law's protected classes, and some include both sexual orientation and gender identity. For a list of states with inclusive hate crimes laws, please contact GLAAD's Director of News at news@glaad.org.

 

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