Reading the hate-o-meter

May 28, 2008 at 12:00 am

Reported violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people more than doubled in Michigan last year, a reminder that it's not safe out there, says Sean Kosofsky, director of policy for the Triangle Foundation.

"People really don't believe this is going on. Polling shows that people think gays have it OK. We have our own TV shows," he says. "We have to constantly show it's not safe to be gay in this country."

Although the 133 percent jump in violence in Michigan is, at least in part, related to additional Triangle staffers collecting data, Kosofsky says that doesn't diminish the "insidiousness" of crimes where the victims are singled out because of their sexual orientation.

The New York-based National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs last week released a report showing a 24 percent increase nationally in reported anti-gay hate crimes from 2006 to 2007 from 1,954 to 2,430. Michigan had the largest increase among the states, jumping from 97 to 226. The data was gathered from victim services organizations across the country and covered a range of crimes including murder, assault, vandalism and intimidation.

"We know that the 2,430 people who called on our organizations in 2007 are only a small fraction of the actual number of LGBT people who experience bias-motivated violence," says Avy Skonik, the national program coordinator at the Anti-Violence Project.

"It's one of the only crimes that's not about personal gain. It's about punishing the victim," Kosofsky says.

Triangle and other national human rights organizations will use the information in the report to continue lobbying state legislatures for stronger hate crimes laws.

Here's a tally of states on this issue from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:

Just 12 states and the District of Columbia include both sexual orientation and gender identity in their hate crime laws.

Michigan includes sexual orientation in defining hate crimes for the purposes of data collection, but stipulates no hate crime penalties for these cases.

Nineteen states include sexual orientation more broadly in their hate crime laws while 13 do not include sexual orientation or gender identity. Five states — Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Wyoming — have no hate crime laws based on any characteristics.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]