Reported hate crimes committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation increased in 2007 to 1,265, the highest level in five years. Of all hate crimes reported in 2007, the proportion committed against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals rose to 16.6 percent, also the highest level in five years. According to the FBI’s HCSA reports, gay men and lesbians have consistently been the third most frequent target of hate violence over the past decade.
The result of this increase in hate crimes based on sexual orientation is heightened fear and insecurity among LGBT individuals. Says Candace Nichols of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada, “Every time I get into an elevator with people, if I’m not by myself, I make sure I’m with a friend. When I go to the bathroom, I always make sure someone is with me, and that’s not something I used to do.”52
“Until we address the root causes of bias toward (LGBT) people, we’ll continue to have hate perpetrated against us,” says Shawna Virago, a program director for the San Francisco advocacy group Community United Against Violence.53
Examples of high profile hate crimes committed against LGBT individuals that have heightened fear and insecurity and perpetuated hate against them include:
- In Richmond, California on December 13, 2008, an openly gay 28 year-old woman was attacked and gang raped by four men, including two juveniles, on a street outside her parked car. The perpetrators took her to a second location and assaulted her again, all the while making slurs about her sexual orientation. As Shawna Virago noted, “The only way we know about (the Richmond) case is because of the bravery of the survivor coming out. Hatred and bias are a routine occurrence for many LGBT people.” Two men and a teenager were charged on January 6, 2009. Thirty-one year-old Humberto Hernandez Salvador, 21 year-old Josue Gonzalez, and 16 year-old Darrell Hodges were charged with kidnapping, carjacking and gang rape. A 15 year-old boy was also arrested in connection with the attack.54 Hate crime enhancements were added to charges against Salvador.55
“What you get is this kind of immature desire to display power,” said Jose Feito, a psychology professor at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California. “And so they go looking for easy victims, or suitable victims.” “Suitable” in the Richmond case, according to Feito, meant a victim who the perpetrators could marginalize in their minds due to her sexual orientation and gender nonconformity. “That all ties into blaming the victim, who’s seen as flaunting their homosexuality.”56
- In Oxnard, California on February 12, 2008, 15 year-old Lawrence King was sitting in a computer lab at his junior high school when Brandon McInerney, 14, shot him twice in the head as their fellow students watched in horror. “Even before his death, Larry King was notorious,” according to press reports. “He was the sassy gay kid who bragged about his flashy attire and laughed off bullying, which for him included everything from name-calling to wet paper towels hurled in his direction. King was an easy target — he stood 5 foot 4 and was all of 100 pounds.”57 In McInerney’s bedroom, investigators discovered a “trove” of white supremacist literature and drawings, depicting a “racist skinhead philosophy of the variety espoused by Tom Metzger, David Lane and others,” according to a prosecution filing with the court. McInerney is being tried as an adult on a murder count, plus a hate crime allegation.58
- In Greeley, Colorado on July 16, 2008, Angie Zapata, 20, was fatally beaten by her date after he discovered she was transgender. Zapata’s killer, Allen Andrade, told police that after he discovered Zapata had male genitalia, he hit her twice in the head with a fire extinguisher thinking he had, in his words, “killed it.” Andrade was reportedly a member of a Colorado gang that is reputed to have a zero-tolerance policy on homosexuality. He was charged with first degree murder and a hate crime.59Andrade was found guilty of these crimes on April 22, 2009.
- In Greenville, South Carolina on May 21, 2007, Sean Kennedy, a gay man, died of injuries sustained after he was attacked outside a bar. While making derogatory comments regarding Kennedy’s sexual orientation, the assailant fatally beat and punched him until he fell, hitting his head on the pavement. The killer was originally charged with murder, but his charge was reduced to involuntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to five years in prison, which was suspended to three years with credit for the seven months he had already served. He was also ordered to attend both anger management and drug/alcohol management classes. No hate crime was charged as South Carolina is one of only five states (along with Arkansas, Georgia, Wyoming, and Indiana) that do not have a penalty-enhancement hate crime law.60