The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has reported that crimes against gays, lesbians and bisexuals are on the rise, and violence against the LGBTQ community is the third most commonly reported type of bias crime. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs indicates that 79% of hate murder victims in 2009 were transgender or non-gender-conforming people.
Helping victims of Hate Crimes
PERSAD CENTER’s Community Safe Zone (CSZ) is a program created to help eliminate crimes, hate crimes and discrimination aimed at LGBTQ people in southwestern Pennsylvania. CSZ partners with law enforcement, schools, social service agencies, churches, community groups and any other organization wanting to create safe spaces for our community. If you, or someone you know, has been the victim of a bias-related crime, PERSAD can assist you in getting the help you need.
Reporting Hate Crimes is critical
Some officials estimate that the number of hate crimes committed against LGBTQ people could be two to three times higher than what is reported by victims. Yet the LGBTQ community has a history of not reporting these crimes. Barriers to reporting these hate crimes include:
- Reporting would mean “coming out” as LGBTQ. Unfortunately, many perpetrators know they can use our closet as their protection.
- The relationship between the LGBTQ community and law enforcement in the past has often been marked by distrust and sometimes police harassment and victimization. There is a belief that nothing will be done even if a report is made.
- Internalized homophobia can lead us to believe “it’s our own fault”, or “that's the price of being gay”, or “things will never change.”
Crime vs. Hate Crime
In some states “Hate Crime” is a special legal classification that can result in additional penalties and jail time for the perpetrator. There is no law in Pennsylvania recognizing bias crimes against LGBTQ people as hate crimes. However, that doesn’t make the attack any less of a crime, and it is still fully prosecutable as such under the law.
In 2009 President Obama signed the Matthew Sheppard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which, for the first time, made LGBTQ hate crimes a federal issue. Under the law, the FBI is charged with investigating LGBTQ hate crimes for prosecution by the Department of Justice.
In order for the law to fall under federal jurisdiction, it has to reach a number of legal thresholds. The FBI will look at any report made to determine if it meets the requirements of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Your local police will usually notify the FBI about any possible incidents, but if they haven't and you feel the FBI should be consulted, you are encouraged to contact them yourself. However, the FBI is not a first responder, and you should always call 911 first.
Documenting the Crime
We can't bring about the changes we need for increased safety until the epidemic of violence directed toward the LGBTQ community is full documented. Reporting these crimes to the police is the first essential step. Notifying our state government is the next step. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PA HRC) compiles statistics about all bias crimes and incidents; this data lets officials know what's going on in the state and where resources and training may be needed. These numbers also become part of the United States Department of Justice UCR (United Crime Report). Your first call to 911 is to protect yourself. Your call to the PA HRC is to protect your community.
If you have been the victim of a hate crime, calling the police and reporting the crime should always be your first response; family and friends can be notified later. If safety is an issue, quickly get yourself to a secure location and call the police immediately. Read our recommended actions for victims of hate crimes here.
If you need information, support or advocacy to report or follow up on an incident of discrimination or crime, please contact Community Safe Zone coordinator Ted Hoover at 1-888-873-7723 ext. 359, or firstname.lastname@example.org.