In data released Oct. 27 the FBI reported that hate crimes against gays and lesbians increased last year, even as the number of hate crimes against other minority groups decreased nationally.
In total, the FBI reported 7,600 hate crimes in 2007, a one percent drop from 2006. But while hate crimes motivated by race and religious affiliation accounted for the decrease, crimes motivated by a victim’s real or perceived sexual orientation increased by six percent.
Valerie Larabee, Executive Director of the Utah Pride Center, called the increase “alarming.”
“And what’s even more alarming is we know those statistics are underreported, because [that] is the tendency of people in our community who are not out when they are victims of a crime like that to not want to go to law enforcement,” she said.
In Utah last year, 28 agencies reported 55 hate crimes. Of these, nine were related to sexual orientation. This is a substantial increase from 2006, when Utah reported 35 hate crimes. In 2006, police agencies across the nation reported 7,722 hate crimes, up from 7,163 in 2005.
So far in 2008, four assaults on gay men have made headlines across the state. Police are still looking for Fa Junior Moimo, a 20-year-old man who allegedly attacked a gay teenager on Capitol Hill’s Churchill Drive this August, breaking the teen’s orbital bone (the series of bones surrounding the eyeball). In September, Cedar City police arrested Jesus Javier Ortega for stabbing his brother-in-law in the face with a pen for “trying to turn his [Ortega’s] son gay.” Later that month, a gay man visiting a friend’s apartment in Salt Lake City said an upstairs neighbor assaulted him while yelling anti-gay slurs.
The most infamous of these four cases, however, involves David “DJ” Bell, a gay man and drag performer accused of kidnapping two children from his neighbor’s house during the early morning hours of a Fourth of July party. Bell said he found the children wandering outside unattended and took them in to help them. When the family recovered the unharmed children, several party-goers broke into Bell’s home, severely beating Bell and his partner, Dan Fair.
The Salt Lake District Attorney later declined to pursue assault charges against Bell’s attackers, although misdemeanor charges may still be pending. Bell’s next trial date is set for December.
Calling Bell’s situation a “very difficult” case, Larabee said that the assault on Bell had made many gay people feel unsafe in their own homes.
“That’s the whole thing about a hate crime,” she said. “An incident that is perpetrated on one person can spill over and make an entire comm. feel intimidated and fearful.”
While Larabee commended law enforcement for doing “a much better job of educating themselves about our community,” she said that Utah’s police and lawmakers had a lot of work left to do in addressing hate crimes perpetrated against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
She called for the passage of anti-discrimination legislation that would prevent people from being fired or losing their housing or access to public accommodations because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The existence of such legislation, she said, would encourage more victims of anti-gay attacks to file police reports because they would not fear repercussions of their sexual orientation or gender identity becoming public knowledge.
Larabee also said that Utah needed tougher hate crimes statues. The state’s current law leaves sentence enhancements for crimes of bias in the hands of individual judges.
“We’re ahead of some states and municipalities because we actually have something on the books … but we need something stronger than that,” she said.
The FBI does not compare data year to year, because the number of law enforcement agencies that participate in the report changes annually. More agencies participated in 2007 than in the previous year, however.