The Fight Against Hate Crimes

Photo courtesy of the FBI Pittsburgh field office

In 2020, according to the FBI, only three Anti-Gay (Male), two Anti-Transgender, and zero Anti-Lesbian, Anti-Gender Non-Conforming, and Anti-Bisexual hate crimes were reported across all of Pennsylvania. At first glance you may think, hey, that’s good news! That means LGBTQ+ hate crimes are really rare! But even a cursory Google search will show you this isn’t the case. The Human Rights Campaign began tracking hate crime data in 2013 and found that 2020 was the worst year for violence against transgender and gender non-conforming individuals so what is happening here? Part of the problem: these crimes typically go unreported or misreported.

Pennsylvania hate crimes in 2020. Information provided by the FBI Crime Data Explorer.

To that end, the FBI Pittsburgh field office is engaged in a statewide effort to build public awareness of hate crimes and encourage reporting to law enforcement. The FBI is the lead investigative agency for criminal violations of federal civil rights statutes and hate crimes are their Civil Rights Program’s top priority. The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” But they cannot pursue the crime and track the data if they don’t know that it happened.

You may assume that if you are attacked because of your orientation or gender identity that the police will pursue the perpetrator to the fullest extent of the law but the sad truth is that, one, local law enforcement is not required to report hate crimes to the FBI and, two, Pennsylvania still does not offer hate crime protections for LGBTQ+ people. Instead, Pennsylvania offers the attackers a loophole with the “Gay Panic Defense,” usually used to claim that unwanted sexual advances from the victim and/or the discovery of the victim’s orientation was so shocking it caused the defendant to suffer a temporary mental breakdown, thus justifying murder in self-defense. The fight to close this loophole continues.

So, what do we do about this? Well if you or someone else is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. If you believe you were a victim or witness of a hate crime, you must then report it to the FBI, either by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI or submitting a tip at tips.fbi.gov (you have the option to remain anonymous in your report). Even if you’re not sure it was technically a hate crime or not, you should still report it. The FBI will investigate to determine whether or not a hate crime occurred. There are no consequences if the crime you report turns out not to be a hate crime (but there are consequences for false reports). Also, contact your state representatives and pressure them to support anti-discrimination efforts, like the Equality Act.

Want more info? You can use the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer to view estimated national and state data, reported agency-level crime statistics, and graphs of specific variables from the National Incident-Based Reporting System. Also, check out the Hate Crime Data Collection Guidelines and Training Manual which addresses policy, identifies the types of bias-motivated offense data collected by the Uniform Crime Reporting Program, offers training scenarios, and provides guidelines for reporting crime motivated by bias.

This piece is the first in a series on the FBI Pittsburgh field office’s community outreach efforts to raise public awareness of hate crimes.

Roy Gloeckl resides in the southern hills of Pittsburgh, performing communications specialties for a local university. He is a lifelong gaymer who has yet to “catch ‘em all.” He is an actor who wants to be a cartoon. And yeah, he totally has a favorite dinosaur. Follow him on Instagram and tell him yours.