New FBI data shows 1 in 5 hate crimes are against LGBTQ people
CHARLESTON, W.Va — New FBI data released last week shows one in five hate crimes committed in the United States are motivated by anti-LGBTQ bias. In West Virginia, authorities reported three hate crimes motivated by bias against someone’s sexual orientation in 2018, up from just one reported crime the year prior.
There is strong evidence to believe these numbers are underreported. The National Crime Victimization Survey, an annual household survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, presents a fuller view of how many people have been victims of hate crimes. On average, more than 200,000 people self-reported being the victims of hate crimes each year between 2003 and 2017. The FBI, however, reported just 7,500 hate crimes for 2018.
“The number of hate crimes committed against the LGBTQ community have continued to steadily increase across the nation since 2014, and West Virginia is not immune to this trend,” said Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia.
There’s a common misconception that LGBTQ people are already protected under West Virginia’s existing hate crimes law. In 2017, the state’s Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that anti-gay crimes could not be prosecuted under the existing hate crimes law.
“Because West Virginia’s hate crimes law doesn’t cover sexual orientation or gender identity, it’s likely that many of the state’s victims aren’t included in the FBI’s statistics,” Schneider said. “As our community has become increasingly visible, we’ve also become more vulnerable. Our state desperately needs to update its laws to ensure our community doesn’t live in fear of violence at the hands of people who hate us.”
While violent hate crimes often grab the most attention, property hate crimes continue to plague our state. As further evidence these numbers from the FBI are flawed, 2018’s data does not include an incident where openly gay Del. Cody Thompson’s campaign sign (then a candidate) was vandalized with a homophobic slur. Like too many in the LGBTQ community, Thompson didn’t report the vandalism because prior experiences led him to believe nothing would be done.
And just this year, First Presbyterian Church in Morgantown, a vocal supporter of the LGBTQ community, saw its church sign vandalized and its pride flag stolen.
“Hate crimes don’t just affect the victims,” Schneider said. “They instill a sense of fear in all members of the community.”
Twenty states and the District of Columbia already include sexual orientation and gender identity in their hate crimes laws, and an additional 11 states include only sexual orientation.
LGBTQ people are estimated to make up less than 5 percent of the United States population, according to a recent estimate from Gallup. Despite this, LGBTQ people comprise more than 18 percent of all reported hate crime victims.
In 2019 legislative session, a record 18 lawmakers sponsored Angel’s Law. The bill is named after Angel Harless, a Charleston woman who was harassed with homophobic taunts and beaten unconscious with a beer bottle outside of a local bar in 2017. The bill would have added sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s hate crimes law. Despite having strong bipartisan support, it did not come up for a vote in the committees it was assigned to in the legislature.
Angel’s Law would stress restorative justice, which allows a judge to sentence a perpetrator to work within the community they have wronged in lieu of additional jail time. Prison will not make a more empathetic person. We want to stop the cycle of hate and reintegrate the person as a productive, empathetic member of society.
Fairness West Virginia is the statewide civil rights advocacy organization dedicated to fair treatment and civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender West Virginians. Our mission is to ensure LGBT people can be open, honest and safe at home, at work, and in the community. We are open to everyone who believes in fundamental fairness.
Questions should be directed to Jake Jarvis, communications manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.