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Hate Crimes Rise Nationwide, Especially Against Gays

By L. K. Regan

Last month, the U.S. Congress added sexual orientation and gender identity to a list of categories protected by a new, expansive hate crimes law. Now it seems that that legislation could not have been more timely, as the FBI reports a steep rise in anti-gay hate crimes last year.

Since 1990, the FBI has been mandated to keep statistics on hate crimes nationwide, though, as they themselves point out, they do not track trends in such crimes—only numbers. Still, the information is made completely public, and has been tallied by media and advocacy groups. Overall, the FBI reports 7,783 hate crimes in 2008, which a two percent climb since 2007. This includes hate crimes motivated by race, color, gender, religion, sexual orientation, nationality or disability.

But the numbers on sexual orientation are among the most radical. The 2008 statistics report 1,617 hate crimes based on sexual orientation, which is 10.7 percent more than in the previous year. The next largest jump was an 8.7 percent increase in religion-based attacks. (Even so, more than half of hate crimes are race-based.) Within the anti-gay attacks, 57.5 percent were motivated specifically by hatred for gay men, while 27.3 percent were aimed at homosexuality in general. Lesbians suffered 11.6 percent of the violence, while two percent or less was due to anti-straight or anti-bisexual bias.

The radical jump in numbers may have something to do with a higher rate of reporting incidents, not only within communities, but among agencies: the number of agencies reporting hate crimes to the FBI jumped this year by 120. In fact, each year the number varies, making it difficult to simply compare years to each other in terms of raw numbers. Even so, the statistics give a picture of the relative prevalence of various kinds of violence across the nation, and emphasize the importance of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Law passed last month and signed into law.

One very concrete change we can expect from next year's FBI hate crimes report: thanks again to the new law, the FBI will, it says, “begin the process of adding the collection of hate crimes motivated by gender and gender identity and incorporating them into our annual report.” Gender identity was finally made a protected category last month. Particularly for transgender persons, this will be the first time that their vulnerability in American life will be quantified, however incompletely. The numbers may come as a sad shock.