a bird and a bottle


What is a Hate Crime?

Last week, in a flurry of chest puffing and pounding, President Bush threatened to veto the hate crimes bill passed by the House and headed toward approval in the Senate. The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Conyers, would expand the definition of hate crimes to include crimes motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation, gender, gender identity (i.e. trans men and women), or disability. Bush laughably claims that state law already protects the rights of these groups.

The trouble is, the L.A. Times, whose editorial page is usually spot on, seems to have taken the Bush bait. In an editorial yesterday, the paper lauded the bill as it applies to sexual orientation, but claimed that it’s unnecessary to protect people from gender or gender identity motivated violence:

The problem is that the House bill goes further, by including gender and disability in its definition of hate crimes. According to the FBI, fewer than 1% of hate crimes in 2005 reflected a bias against the disabled. Although the FBI doesn’t keep count of gender-bias crimes, California does, and only 1.3% of the state’s hate crimes in 2005 involved “anti-gender bias.”

Huh? I wonder how the FBI and the state of California got those statistics. Because it seems to me that they must have relied on a very narrow understanding of what violence is gender motivated. Take rape, for example. I would argue that rape can be a hate crime (usually against women). But I’m pretty damn sure it wasn’t included in that 1.3%. For perspective, according to the FBI, hate crimes based on sexual orientation account for over 14% of the hate crimes nationwide.

And what about gender identity? According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, while 29 states have laws that protect people based on sexual orientation, only seven and D.C. protect people based on gender identity. Transgender people are estimated to be 7-10 times more likely to be murdered than the national average. Yet gender identity is only implicit in the new hate crimes bill; the bill’s sponsors in the House have indicated that they intend “gender” to cover gender identity, but it’s unclear whether the Senate will agree.

The LA Times is right to point to the importance — necessity, really — of a law that explicitly protects the rights and safety of gay women and men. But by minimizing the need for a similar spotlight on women and transgender men and women, the article plays a part in the continuing normalization of violence against them.

(also at Feministe).

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2 Comments so far
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Yet gender identity is only implicit in the new hate crimes bill; the bill’s sponsors in the House have indicated that they intend “gender” to cover gender identity, but it’s unclear whether the Senate will agree.

That depends on what the courts will say about it. In New York, they ruled last year that New York’s anti-discrimination law, which explicitly mentions gender and sexual orientation but not gender identity, does in fact cover gender identity because that’s what “gender” implies. For some reason, I don’t think the Roberts court is going to agree with that interpretation.

Comment by Alon Levy

You are right on point! In addition, if you consider the crimes on a per-capita basis, the crimes quoted in the State of CA tracking skyrocket. Because there are fewer trans people, killing just a few of us is a huge percentage.

In the end, the thing this legislation will do that is most important is correct the line that says “Although the FBI doesn’t keep count of gender-bias crimes…”. That’s the primary reason I’ve been lobbying for this bill for 10 years.

Comment by Denise




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