Anti-LGBT Hate Crimes Are Rising — But We Really Don’t Know How Much

Scott Repasky
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Anti-LGBT Incidents

on the Rise

According to Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen, authors of After the Ball: How America will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90s, there was a four-fold increase in anti-gay hate crimes in 1988 alone, from 330 between 1983 and 1986 to 1,488 between 1987 and 1989.

Data from the FBI shows that hate crimes that target sexual orientation rose to 5.4% of all reported hate-crime incidents in 2013 (about 250 incidents). Since the early 1990s, there’s been a steady, but low, fluctuation in total reported hate crime, nationwide. The numbers themselves are imprecise — the FBI notes on their website that “the statistics are based on the voluntary participation of law enforcement agencies and, as a result, may severely undercount the number of hate crimes” …”

The Bureau of Justice Statistics, which is part of the Department of Justice, estimates that between 18,000 and 28,000 people are victims of hate crimes each year. Both estimates are based on the reports that police departments voluntarily provide to the DOJ. Not all agencies “ including the NYPD “ report hate crimes.

Where in the U.S.

Are Anti-LGBT Hate Crimes
Most Common?

Anti-LGBT hate crimes are on the rise, but as they’re often kept underreported, we really don’t know how bad it is. It’s difficult to know whether this is increasing because of more hate crimes being committed because of the more accepting social climate, reporting being easier through historical increases in online crimes reported, or another factor.

While the FBI provides data on hate crimes each year, it’s reported on a voluntary basis by law enforcement agencies. And so, it’s hard to know where the problem is the worst in the US.

In the year 2000, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed into law to mandate the US Justice Department to report on hate crimes. This law reports on the volume of the violent anti-LGBT hate crimes that are reported, including the under-reported sexual orientation murders.

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Program (NCAVP) has found that transgender women of color, and lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) survivors over the age of 55 had the highest rates of fatal, violent hate-related crimes in 2014. Based on their data and on the FBI’s data, we can extrapolate on where the worst problem might be.

But That’s Not the

Whole Story, Right?

According to the Human Rights Campaign, 54.5 percent of the victims of LGBTQ hate crimes in 2015 were anti-gay or lesbian and 61.6 percent of hate-crime based murders were of LGBTQ victims. These statistics show that violence directed at people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer is definitely on the rise. But how much can we trust the actual numbers we’re fed?

This survey asked two questions:

  • Is there a current law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity?
  • Does the state have a law protecting employment for people based on sexual orientation?

If a state did not have either of these laws, they were marked as “no law” when it came to the survey, which consequently also does not include any statistics for these states.

In the chart below, you may have noticed that the state of North Dakota is missing. According to the state website, North Dakota does not have clear laws giving LGBT citizens protection. However, the law does not explicitly discriminate against them either. As a result, North Dakota fell into the “No Law” category.


If you have read this far you probably have a pretty good idea of the plight that the gay community has faced for centuries. You may have even had the realization that many nations in the world do not allow gay couples to marry. And finally, you may have welcomed the sea-change in mindset about LGBT people that brought about legalized gay marriage in the United States and around the world.

About This Story

Last year, the FBI released new hate crime data for 2015 — the first year such data was collected under a new federal law. The results were staggering: There were 5,850 hate crimes reported that year, including, for the first time, crimes committed against people because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

In fact, the prevalence of these categories was stunning — more than double the number of hate crimes based on race alone. While the numbers are alarming, they are far from conclusive.

In recent years, researchers have split into two camps over what’s called the “disparity ratio,” the percentage difference between the number of crimes committed against a minority group and the number of crimes committed by a minority group. Disparity ratios have been used for decades to compare hate and bias crimes to a similar non-hate and non-bias crime, such as a burglary or larceny.

A group of researchers at the Bureau of Justice Statistics has concluded that because criminal victimization surveys are more likely to accurately reflect actual crime than are data collected from crimes reported by police, the federal survey is the better gauge of hate crime prevalence.

A second group, led by sociologist Pete Simi at Chapman University, contends that the police data is the best way to tell whether hate crimes are increasing or decreasing.

Fair Use Statement

The arrival of a more specific federal hate-crime law in 2009 was supposed to make it easier to track bias-motivated crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. It did not.

Though you might think police would be happy to oblige, a new study suggests that, in fact, many law enforcement agencies are reluctant to track the number of hate crimes against LGBT people, or report them at all. The study’s lead author, Brian Levin, a professor and director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino, says this is probably for the same reasons that led to the gap in the first place.

“Their fear would be that this would be communally interpreted as, ‘You’re treating this like it’s a special class,’” Levin told The Huffington Post. “This is a special crime and it should be investigated properly.”