In 2005, Equality Maryland succeeded in securing approval for a proposal to expand Maryland’s hate crimes statute to include crimes committed because of a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill, sponsored by Delegate Adrienne Jones and Senator John Giannetti, was passed by large majorities in both houses of the Maryland General Assembly and signed by Gov. Robert Ehrlich on May 26, 2005. The new law provides vital protections for LGBT citizens and represents a fundamental component of equality under the law for all Marylanders.
What is a Hate Crime?
When teenagers spraypaint random graffiti on the façade of a bridge, this is vandalism. When teenagers spraypaint a Nazi swastika with the words “die Jews” on a synagogue, this is an altogether different crime. This is a hate crime.
Hate crimes differ from other crimes in that they target a whole community as opposed to just an individual victim. Hate crimes are intended to cause fear among an entire group of people. A hate crime sends a message that an individual and “their kind” will not be tolerated, many times leaving the victim and others in their group feeling isolated, vulnerable and unprotected.
Myth: Hate Crimes Laws Say That One Group of People is More Important than Another
Hate crimes laws don’t privilege a certain class of victims; they punish a certain class of criminals.
Hate crimes are not about valuing one person over another, as everyone is covered by a hate crimes law. A crime motivated by religion, for instance, may be particularly important to the Muslim or Jewish communities in the United States, because of the increased prevalence of anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish hate crimes. However, a hate crimes law does not favor minority religions. A crime committed because a victim is Christian, for instance, is equally covered under Maryland’s existing hate crimes statute.
Hate crimes laws are important law enforcement and prosecutorial tools supported by a broad cross-section of prosecutors and police chiefs across the country. The goal of hate crimes laws is to address the actions of the perpetrator and prosecute accordingly.
Myth: Hate Crimes Are Indistinguishable from Other Crimes
Hate crimes, including those motivated by anti-gay or anti-transgender bias, often involve extreme levels of violence, including beatings where the victim’s head is severed or damaged to the point of being unrecognizable, shooting where every bullet in the shooter’s gun is discharged, and stabbings where the perpetrator slashes and stabs the victim dozens of times. According to Albert Moskovitz of the Criminal Law Section, Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, “The reason that these crimes are so violent is because the perpetrator is lashing out at a whole people. The violence is meant to hurt thousands rather than just one. This pits one group against another. And because of that, it tears at the fabric of our society.”
Myth: Hate Crimes Laws are Unconstitutional
The U.S. Supreme Court has unanimously rejected a First Amendment challenge to the constitutionality of hate crimes laws. A defendant’s motive for committing a crime has traditionally been an important factor in sentencing, wrote Chief Justice Rehnquist in Wisconsin v. Mitchell, 508 U.S 476 (1993).
The Attorneys General in several states with hate crimes laws argued in their amicus brief to the court that bias-inspired crime is more likely to provoke retaliatory crimes, inflict emotional harms on its victims, and incite community unrest. That justification for penalty enhancement is appropriate and long standing, according to the Chief Justice, citing Blackstone, who wrote that those crimes “which are the most destructive of the public safety and happiness” should be most severely punished.
Myth: Crimes Against the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Are Not a Problem
Crimes motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation represent the third highest category of reported hate crimes, behind race-based and religion-based crimes.
According to the FBI, crimes committed in 2005 due to bias against the victim’s perceived sexual orientation represented 14.2 percent of reported hate crime incidents – the highest level in the 12 years since the agency began collecting these statistics. Violent crime throughout the United States has been declining in recent years, yet hate crimes against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people continue to rise. There were a total of 1,017 reported violent crimes against members of the LGBT community across the country in 2005.
Hate Crimes and the Transgender Community
Violence against the transgender community continues at an alarming rate in the United States. Transgender people are perhaps the least understood of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
“Transgender” is a broad term that applies to people who live substantial portions of their lives expressing an innate sense of gender other than their birth gender. Generally speaking, a transgender person manifests a sense of self, the physical characteristics and/or personal expression commonly associated with a sex other than the one he or she was assigned at birth. This encompasses transsexuals, cross-dressers, or intersex people (those born with sex chromosomes, external genitalia, or internal reproductive system that are not considered “standard” for either male or female). It also includes people who may not conform or be seen as conforming to society’s rigid stereotypes about what it means to be a man or a woman in our society – for example, masculine women or effeminate men. All of the people described above are at risk for discrimination and violence based on gender.
Anti-transgender hate crimes continue to be under-reported. Unfortunately, data on anti-transgender hate crimes is not currently collected in Maryland.
According to law enforcement sources, an average of one transgendered individual is murdered each month in the United States. In our own backyard, Washington, D.C. has experienced a particularly high rate of anti-transgender violence in recent years:
In 2002, Stephanie Thomas and Ukea Davis, transgender teens, were brutally gunned down in Southeast Washington, D.C. In August 2003, Bella Evangelista, a popular entertainer in Washington, D.C. was shot to death multiple times at close range. Police have treated the murder as a hate crime. The same month, police discovered the nude body of Emonie Kiera Spaulding in a field. She had been shot but also had severe head wounds. That same evening, there was a second, near-fatal shooting of a transgender woman. These are just a few of the crimes against transgender individuals that rocked D.C.
In 1998, Marylanders were shocked to read about the murder of Lynn Vines. Leonard “Lynn” Vines, a 32 year-old cross-dresser and native of East Baltimore, was accosted in front of his cousin’s home and shot six times by a group of 10 people asserting that “we don’t allow no drag queen faggots in this neighborhood.” Vines survived the attack, which police investigated as a hate crime, and received an outpouring of support from Maryland residents outraged by the violence.
In 1999, a group of six went on a crime spree in Baltimore that included over a dozen armed robberies and four carjacking incidents. While most of the victims were threatened at gunpoint and otherwise not injured, one man was hit in the head with a baseball bat, and Tacy Ranta, prominent transgender activist, was fatally shot in the chest. According to the detective on the case, one of the assailants asked the shooter why he had shot “that lady.” The shooter replied, “That was no lady – that was a faggot.” Some transgender activists believe that since Ranta was the only one killed, the murder was a hate crime based on her status as a transsexual.
In 2003, the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, conducted a poll in which a majority of respondents said they believed transgender individuals should have more laws that protect them.
Crimes Motivated By Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity & Expression In Hate Crimes Laws
In 1988, the Maryland General Assembly enacted a Hate Crimes Statute.This legislation, originally co-sponsored by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., made it a separate criminal offense if a person “harasses or commits a crime upon a person or that person’s property because of his or her race, religious beliefs, or national origin.”
However, despite the high prevalence of crimes that are motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity and expression, these categories were not covered in Maryland’s hate crimes statute until our historic victory in 2005.