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National NOW Times >> Spring, 2001 >> Article

Have a Heart: Help Prevent Hate Crimes

By Catherine Bitney

To help create a better understanding of hate crimes and how they effect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community, NOW activists across the country took action this Valentine’s Day to speak out against hate crimes on the day devoted to love.

In Washington, D.C., NOW activists joined together in front of the Department of Justice to speak out against hate crimes. The protest called for the expansion of federal hate crimes protections to include crimes motivated by biases based upon gender, sexual orientation and disability. In addition to sending an important message about the protection from hate violence that all people deserve, the action was a reminder to Attorney General John Ashcroft that he must uphold the Constitution and vigorously enforce the law.

Bias crimes, also called “hate crimes” or “malicious harassment,” are crimes in which the offender intentionally selects a victim based on real or perceived membership in a particular group. Bias crimes not only hurt the individual victim, but also serve to intimidate and subjugate an entire group, thereby disrupting the tranquility and safety of whole communities. The federal statute currently used to prosecute hate violence in the U.S. does not cover violence based on gender, sexual orientation or disability. This statute is further limited by the requirement that the victim be attacked while engaging in federally-protected activity, such as attending school or voting.

On the day before Valentine’s Day, the FBI released a hate crimes report which revealed that hate and bias-motivated murders have reached a five-year high. The FBI report showed a rise in bias-related crimes based on race, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity and religion. What was missing? Gender-bias crimes were not included.

To ensure that the rights and safety of all persons are protected, NOW continues to demand that gender, sexual orientation and disability be included in the Hate Crimes Prevention Act and that the requirement of federally-protected activity be dropped. NOW urges members to write their representatives at all levels, pressuring them to expand current hate crimes laws to be inclusive of all groups.

In past years, NOW activists nationwide have been visible on Valentine’s Days in support of equal marriage rights. Some have staged same-sex marriages, rallied to protest marriage bans, delivered Valentine’s cards to senators urging them to permit same-sex marriages, organized same-sex wedding marches through college campuses and held public forums and street performances to educate the community. This year, equal marriage rights actions continued as NOW activists took on hate crimes prevention.

Did you know?
• Students who describe themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered are five times more likely to miss school because of feeling unsafe. 28% are forced to drop out.
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, “Anti-Gay/Lesbian Victimization,” New York, 1984.

• The vast majority of survivors of anti-lesbian/gay violence — possibly more than 80% — never report the incident, often due to fear of being “outed.”
New York Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project Annual Report, 1996.

• 85% of teachers oppose integrating lesbian, gay and bisexual themes in their curricula.
“Making Schools Safe for Gay and Lesbian Youth: Report of the Massachusetts Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth,” 1993.

• Due to sexual orientation discrimination, lesbians earn up to 14% less than their heterosexual female peers with similar jobs, education, age and residence, according to a study by the University of Maryland.
Badgett, M.V. Lee, “The Wage Effects of Sexual Orientation Discrimination,” Industrial and Labor Relations Review, July 1995.

• 42% of homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual.
Orion Center, Survey of Street Youth, Seattle, WA: Orion Center, 1986.

• More than 84% of people polled oppose employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Survey Conducted by Newsweek, January 1997.

• 75% of people committing hate crimes are under age 30 — one in three are under 18 — and some of the most pervasive anti-gay violence occurs in schools.
New York Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Report, 1996.

• Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are at four times higher risk for suicide than their straight peers.
Gibson P., LCSW, “Gay Male and Lesbian Youth Suicide,” Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Youth Suicide, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1989.

• A survey of 191 employers revealed that 18% would fire, 27% would refuse to hire and 26% would refuse to promote a person they perceived to be lesbian, gay or bisexual.
Schatz and O’Hanlan, “Anti-Gay Discrimination in Medicine: Results of a National Survey of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Physicians,” San Francisco, 1994.

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