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Theories of Hate Crimes: Gender Identity & Sexual Orientation

I wrote this for my Theories of Criminology class and thought I’d post it.

Even though the acceptance of the LGBTQ individuals is rising the number of hate crimes against these same individuals is also increasing. In today’s society we like to believe that hate crimes were something we left in our closets from the 90s along with our hyper-color t-shirts and tear-away pants. The truth is it has gotten worst these crimes are affecting minors younger than twelve years old. This paper will cover the definitions surrounding the phenomenon of hate crimes, the leaps and strides in legislation, the theories from the schools of criminology, psychology, sociology and Mesa Community College students.

The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law defines a hate crime as: a noun: a crime that violates the victim’s civil rights and that is motivated by hostility to the victim’s race, religion, creed, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender (Hate 1996). This paper will cover the last two factors of a hate crime. Federal and international organizations also commonly refer hate crime as a bias crime.

Over the years there has been great stride in laws coming into action to enhance the penalties for crimes which are classified as a hate crime. Most of these laws and legislation have been modeled after the Anti-Defamation League of B’Nai B’rith’s 1981 model statue.  The statue articulates that: “A person commits the crime of intimidation if, by reason of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin or sexual orientation of another individual or group of individuals, they violate the Penal Code. Intimidation is a misdemeanor/ felony” (Reidy 2002).

On January 20, 2010 President Barack Obama signed a law which now makes it a federal crime to assault an individual because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The law was named for Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. both who were murdered in 1998 (CNN). According to Phoenix Police Department website “Arizona currently maintains an ‘aggravated’ or ‘increased sentencing’ statute.”  This law provides that if a person is found to be responsible for a felony crime, and evidence satisfactory to the court is presented, including the victim was intentionally selected because of race, religion, gender, national origin, or sexual orientation, the court may impose a greater sentence of up to ten additional years.” (Phoenix).

Do you know where you are protected? One problem I believe is each state has different laws and not everyone is protected in every state. A mere 13 states recognize Sexual orientation and gender identity these states include: California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. Only 18 states recognize sexual orientation in their laws these states include: Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. There are 5 states that do not have hate crime laws that include crimes based on any characteristics these include: Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan, South Carolina, and Wyoming. However numerous states do not recognize sexual orientation or gender identity these states include: Alabama, Alaska, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia. (National)

Now that I have covered some of the laws and terms let’s get into the purpose of this paper, the theories! There are several theories of why these crimes happen. I conducted a survey of 400 Mesa Community College students that were attending during the Spring 2010 semester. The students were selected at random and asked several questions including their age, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The students were also asked questions such as: “Why do hate crimes happen?”, “What age group do you think is most affected by hate crimes against sexual orientation/ gender identity?”, and “Who is most likely to become a target of a hate crime based on sexual orientation or gender identity bias?”.

The results from the surveys were alarming in some areas and expected in others. The top reason students felt that hate crimes happen were: ignorance, hate, and religion/ upbringing; others included: society, fear, and misunderstanding. I believe these are the reasons that most of us believe these crimes happen. Rarely are these crime committed for monetary gain. When the students were asked “What age group do you think is most affected by hate crimes against sexual orientation/ gender identity?” the majority of the students said between the ages of 18-22 with 41% choosing that option. The second age group was 15-17 with 35%. This means that most of the students felt that high school and early college-aged students were most likely to be attacked. (Hinson 2010) Studies show very similar results that practically 60.8% of students reported that they felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation, and more than 38.4% felt unsafe because of their gender expression. An alarming 86.2% of students reported being verbally harassed at school because of their sexual orientation, and 66.5% of students were verbally harassed because of their gender expression (Kosciw, Diaz, Greytak, 2007).

Those survived were also asked who they thought would most likely become a target of a hate crime based on their sexual orientation. The results were expected to be a little different than what I already knew from statistics and documentaries I have seen. The majority of students at Mesa Community College believe that the order would go as followed: Gay Male, Transgender, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Heterosexual. The order is slightly different actually. The truth is heterosexuals are not the least likely to be attacked, bisexuals are. There are several reports of hate crimes of sexual orientation against heterosexuals every year. The problem is that they are rarely reported due to shame or fear they will not be taken seriously (Hinson 2010).

The final question on the survey was Have you ever been a victim of a hate crime based on your sexual orientation? I wasn’t sure what to expect the results to be. However it was somewhat alarming. 11% of the 400 students who took the survey said yes they had in fact been a victim of a hate crime. What was even more alarming was during a group discussion of the PRISM the Gay/ Straight Alliance of Mesa Community College. Our discussion was on hate crimes and harassment, the question was if you were a victim by a student or faculty would you report it? Most of them sadly said no for different reasons. They were also asked if they felt the faculty and administration were approachable on the issue and again they said no (Hinson 2010).

One theory is the Gay Panic Theory. This theory states that defendant became temporarily insane and unable to control their behavior, or that the approach at least caused them to have a “diminished capacity” for controlling their behavior. One of the most recent cases involved two 15-year-old males at a California Junior High School. The victim Lawrence “Larry” King, a gay male, asked his classmate Brandon McInerney to be his Valentine, days later the students were in the computer lab working on World War II papers when Brandon stood up and fired two shots into the back of Larry’s head with a handgun he had concealed in his backpack. Larry died two days later. Brandon’s trial is set for May 2010. If McInerney is found guilty of all the charges, he could possibly face as much as 53 years to life in prison (Newsweek 2008). Despite what the media sometimes shows hate crimes of this nature maybe on the decrease, but it is increasing for hate crimes in the GLBTQ youth community.

In today’s society we have came along way in the GLBTQ community in taking steps against these hate crimes but until we are all equally protected we still have a long way to go. I thank those who fought before my generation and me to ensure I am protected, but I want to work and help take the steps to ensure protection for all. We are not all protected equally yet but soon we will.

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