Yesterday, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), America’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organisation, responded to the release of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Hate Crime Statistics for 2014. For the second year in a row, the report included statistics on bias-motivated incidents based on gender identity, which grew from 31 reported to the FBI in 2013 to 98 in 2014.
The new statistics come just days after HRC released a joint comprehensive report with the Trans People of Color Coalition (TPOCC) on the epidemic of violence against transgender people – particularly transgender women of color. It also comes ahead of the first-ever Congressional forum on the scourge of violence against transgender people tomorrow afternoon.
“Hate crimes affect not only the victims who are targeted and their families, but create fear and instability throughout entire communities,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “So much more work is needed to prevent bias-motivated violence, and far too many states still lack LGBT-inclusive hate crimes laws – a problem that HRC is committed to working with our allies to change. It’s also essential that local law enforcement fully and accurately report incidents of bias-motivated crimes to the FBI so that we truly understand the full scope of the violence.”
While the FBI data is helpful, it does not paint a complete picture of hate crimes against LGBT Americans because of two significant factors. First, under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA), enacted in 2009, the FBI only began collecting data on hate crimes committed on the basis of gender identity in 2013. Even with the increase in reported incidents this year, HRC remains concerned that local law enforcement continues to mischaracterize hate based crimes against transgender people as ones based on either sexual orientation or gender. Second, current statistics only provide a partial snapshot of hate crimes in America because reporting these incidents to the FBI is not mandatory. Thousands of law enforcement agencies across the country did not submit data – including at least two jurisdictions with a population of more than 250,000 people. The vast majority (89.2%) of the agencies that did participate reported zero hate crimes. This means that law enforcement in those participating agencies – including cities with large populations – affirmatively reported to the FBI that no hate crime incidents occurred in their jurisdictions, which seems highly unlikely especially since at least 13 transgender women were murdered in the United States in 2014.
HRC and partner organizations have worked with the FBI since the passage of the HCPA, assisting in updating the agency’s crime reporting form, training materials, and providing details on recent hate crimes when they occur. HRC continues to press for improved reporting that is crucial to understanding the state of hate violence in America. In addition to new recommendations released last week in a joint HRC-TPOCC report on addressing anti-transgender violence, HRC has identified additional opportunities to strengthen reporting and help combat violence, including:
- Amend the HCSA to mandate reporting. HRC supports mandating local jurisdictions report hate crimes statistics. This would provide a more complete picture of hate based violence in the United States and allow for targeted efforts to address areas with high levels of hate crimes.
- Passage of state laws that protect LGBT individuals from hate crimes. The HCPA only protects LGBT victims from violent crimes where the federal government has jurisdiction over the underlying criminal act, regardless of the bias motivation. Since most crimes in the U.S. are still prosecuted at the state level, LGBT victims remain particularly vulnerable to hate crimes in the states that do not provide protections for individuals based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Passage of state level HCPAs allows states to prosecute hate crimes without a federal nexus and in many instances crimes against property. Sixteen states plus the District of Columbia have laws that address bias-motivated crimes on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Expand education and training initiatives. The government must complement tough laws and vigorous enforcement – which can deter and address violence motivated by bigotry – with education and training initiatives designed to reduce prejudice. The federal government has an essential role to play in helping law enforcement, communities, and schools implement effective hate crimes prevention programs and activities. Education and exposure are the cornerstones of a long-term solution to prejudice, discrimination and bigotry against all communities. A federal anti-bias education effort would exemplify a proactive commitment to challenging prejudice, stereotyping, and all forms of discrimination that affect the whole community.