On 5-Year Anniversary of Federal Hate Crimes Law, HRC Releases Guide to State-Level Advocacy

by Stephen Peters

20 states either do not have a hate crimes law or have a law lacking LGBT inclusion


WASHINGTON– On the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 (HCPA), the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, today released a guide providing analysis of the current landscape of hate crimes laws in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

“LGBT Americans will never be truly equal or free to pursue happiness until they are safe from bias-motivated violence,” said HRC President Chad Griffin.“Too many states still do not have an LGBT-inclusive state-level hate crimes law. While I am confident that love will always conquer hate, the stories chronicled within this guide vividly illustrate the tragic and senseless violence that hate often fuels. We must work harder than ever before to pass hate crimes laws that protect our entire community.”

As HRC and advocates across the country commemorate the fifth anniversary of the passage of the federal HCPA, this publication builds on the advocacy guide that HRC originally published in 2009. It provides an explanation of the federal hate crimes law, an analysis of the effectiveness of the law, and depicts the landscape of hate crimes laws in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

“Hate crimes are different from ordinary crimes because they affect not only the victims and their families, but generate fear and insecurity for the entire community or group of people that they target,” added Sarah Warbelow, HRC’s Legal Director.“All people should have the opportunity to live openly, honestly, and safely in their community without fear of harassment or violence.”

The passage of the HCPA was a significant victory in the fight for equality for LGBT people because it was the first major piece of civil rights legislation protecting LGBT individuals. However, as the guide points out, it does not end the need for state lawmakers to address hate-motivated crimes that terrorize communities across the country. Every state must consider ways to use state laws to supplement the HCPA.

Twenty states either do not have a hate crimes law or have a law lacking LGBT inclusion. Although 30 states have a hate crimes prevention law that covers sexual orientation, only 15 of those laws also address hate crimes based on gender identity or expression.

Law enforcement training, data collection and the reporting of data on hate crimes are also key to addressing hate crimes at the state level. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) collects data from local jurisdictions on hate crime incidents under the Hate Crimes Statistics Act (HCSA). However, HCSA reporting is not mandatory, resulting in significant underreporting. Only 30 states provide for statewide hate crimes data collection and reporting. Only 14 states provide for specialized law enforcement training in preventing, identifying and responding to hate crimes.

HRC’s guide shows state-level advocates what their state legislatures must do to fully address the problem of hate crimes. The guide also points out several priorities in which HRC is committed to engaging in advocacy and education efforts to bring awareness to hate based violence and to expand legislation aimed at addressing hate crimes.

Several priorities include:

·         Amend the HCSA to mandate reporting. In August 2014, FBI Director James Comey explained, “We must continue to impress upon our state and local counterparts in every jurisdiction the need to track and report hate crimes. It is not something we can ignore or sweep under the rug.” One effective way of ensuring greater compliance is to mandate hate crimes statistics reporting for local jurisdictions. 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.

·         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.

Clearly, much work is left to do on both the federal and state level. Passage of the HCPA was one critical step on a long road toward ending bias-motivated violence.

HRC’s updated Guide to State-Level Advocacy Following Enactment of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act can be found online at www.hrc.org/resources/category/hate-crimes

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. HRC envisions a world where LGBT people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.


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