Continuing violence motivated by hatred and prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity, though largely unseen, is an intimidating day-to-day reality for people across Europe and North America.
Although the full extent of the problem is not known because few governments collect and publish data on such incidents, violent hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity occur in many parts of Europe and North America. Incident reports provide a basis to establish that homophobic violence is both frequent and particularly brutal. Indeed, as discussed below, the few official statistics available suggest that bias motivated violence against LGBT persons is a significant portion of violent hate crimes overall and is characterized by levels of physical violence that in many cases exceed those of other forms of reported hate crime. Although there is not enough data available to document trends in violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity bias, none of the official reports suggest that incidents are decreasing; reports in some countries suggest an increase.
The victims of violence include openly gay individuals and commercial establishments, gay rights activists and organizations, transsexuals and transgender individuals, and those attending gay pride parades and other gay related public events. Those targeted in what is often called homophobic violence include people who describe themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (together, “LGBT”), as well as others who are victimized because they do not conform to stereotypes of gender identity, or are perceived to belong to the aforementioned groups.
A. Reporting from Nongovernmental Organizations
Credible studies by nongovernmental organizations report that homophobic violence is either on the increase or remains at historically high levels.
For example, in France, SOS Homophobie has been reporting on homophobia for more than a decade. In the annual report covering 2007, the organization documented 1,263 incidents of homophobia in France. Although this represents a 5 percent decrease over 2006, it is nonetheless the second highest figure in the history of reporting. The number of violent incidents (132) also decreased—by 14 percent over 2006 figures. The percentage of violent attacks in relation to overall incidents—11 percent in 2007—has remained steady at between 11 and 13 percent since 2003.
In the United States, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) and more than thirty of its member organizations across the country released an annual report in May 2008, showing a 24 percent increase in incidents of violence against LGBT people in 2007, compared to 2006. They noted that 2007 also had the third-highest murder rate in the ten years that NCAVP has been compiling the report, with murders more than doubling from 10 in 2006 to 21 in 2007.
The report examines data based on incidents involving 2,430 LGBT persons who reported experiencing bias-motivated violence in major metropolitan areas, including Chicago, Columbus, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, the New York City area, and the San Francisco Bay area; and in seven states in which monitoring was carried out: Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
NCAVP officials said their report was the most complete examination of antigay violence in the U.S., noting that the annual hate crime reports published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) consistently contain information on far fewer cases than the NCAVP publication. The National Coalition noted that the FBI reports rely solely on law enforcement reports rather than victim service organization data.
In Michigan, for instance, hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation more than doubled in 2007 from the previous year’s total, according to NCAVP findings, which draw upon monitoring by Michigan’s Triangle Foundation. The annual findings showed that Michigan led the nation in the increase of hate crime reports. 226 incidents were reported and documented in 2007, compared to 97 in 2006, constituting an increase of 133 percent.
In other countries, NGO reports and surveys indicate that homophobic violence affects a substantial percentage of LGBT persons and is widely underreported to the police.
In Germany, a nationwide victim survey was conducted among gay and bisexual youths and adults on their experiences with violence. Almost twenty-four thousand people participated in the survey which was conducted between December 1, 2006, and January 31, 2007, by Maneo, a nongovernmental gay rights organization. The survey found that 35 percent of all respondents said they experienced bias-motivated violence in the past year, while almost two-thirds (63 percent) of young gay and bisexual men under the age of 18 reported being victims of such violence. Only 10 percent of the victims filed reports with the police. A second survey was conducted one year later with 17,500 participants, and preliminary data showed that almost 40 percent reported having experienced bias-motivated violence. Maneo expects to release more detailed results from the second survey in late 2008.
With regard to Turkey, Human Rights Watch released a new report on May 22, 2008—We Need a Law for Liberation: Gender, Sexuality, and Human Rights in a Changing Turkey. The report highlighted the violence experienced by the LGBT community in Turkey, using victims’ testimonies and case studies which spanned over a three year period.
The report found that “every transgender person and many of the gay men Human Rights Watch spoke to report having been a victim of a violent crime—sometimes multiple crimes—based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Beatings in cruising areas, robberies by men or gangs who arranged to meet their victims over the internet and attempted murder were among the documented abuses.” The vulnerable social position of gay men and transgender people was characterized as “living in fear” and “a social hell.”
The interviewed lesbian and bisexual women “reported pressure, often extreme, from their families. Some were constrained to undergo psychological or psychiatric ‘help’ to ‘change’ their sexual orientation. Many faced physical violence.” This situation has been referred to as a balance between “silence and violence.”
In the United Kingdom, on June 26, 2008, a UK-based NGO Stonewall published Homophobic Hate Crime: The Gay British Crime Survey. This report surveyed 1,721 members of the LGBT community across Great Britain. It exposed incidences of verbal abuse and violent hate crimes experienced by individuals who identify as LGBT throughout England, Scotland, and Wales. The report concluded that:
- nearly 13 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual people have experienced a homophobic hate crime or incident in the last year;
- 20 percent of lesbian and gay people have experienced a homophobic hate crime or incident in the last three years;
- 4 percent of the respondents reported a violent bias-motivated physical assault;
- 14 percent of victims of homophobic hate crimes or incidents did not report them to anyone because they happened too frequently to report;
- a third of lesbian and gay people alter their behavior so they are not perceived as being gay, specifically to prevent being a victim of hate crime.
B. Violent Attacks on Individuals and Property
Incidents of bias-motivated violence include attacks on people who described themselves as openly gay, as well as incidents in which attackers wrongly identified the victims as gay. The fact that incidents listed below come from a limited number of countries does not necessarily mean that the problem of homophobic violence is more alarming there. More likely it reflects the fact that NGOs and media are more active in bringing exposure to such cases. Examples of violent attacks from among the incidents reported in the media and by NGOs in 2007 and early 2008 include the following:
In Belarus, on May 21, 2008, at about 11:00 p.m., Edward Tarletski, an openly gay Belarusian man and the founder of Lambda Belarus, the first gay rights organization in Belarus, was badly beaten upon arriving to his apartment building in Minsk. He was attacked by three young people between 20 and 25 years old. According to Tarletski: “I was approaching the entrance when I saw young people smoking nearby. … One of them called me by my surname—to make it clear that it was me, I think. Another one unexpectedly hit me in the face, and I fell down. They kicked me many times, mostly in the head. Then they ran away. I lost consciousness. A neighbor then helped me to reach my apartment. The attackers took nothing: in my bag I had money and a camera.” Tarletski revealed that this was the third such assault on him. He added that he did not intend to report the incident to the police, as that “would be a waste of time.”
In Croatia, police investigated the 2006 attack by a dozen people on two gay British tourists in a bar, in which one of the tourists sustained a concussion, ear injury, and loss of teeth. Police also investigated a similar attack on two German gay tourists in Split, where they were attacked while walking on the waterfront holding hands; one of the victims sustained a nose fracture and the other a slight chest injury. No arrests were made in either case.
In France, on February 24, 2008, six attackers, who ranged in ages of 17 to 28, tormented 19-year-old Mathieu Roumi in the Paris suburb of Bagneux, in what appeared to have begun as an argument over stolen goods. Prosecutors said the six held the victim for about nine and a half hours and “tortur[ed] him by punching him, sexually humiliating him and writing ‘dirty Jew’ and ‘dirty faggot’ on his forehead.” They allegedly forced him to eat cigarette butts and forced a stick covered by a condom into his throat. The six alleged attackers were detained, and investigators filed preliminary charges against them. The charges included “group violence motivated by a person’s real or supposed race, religion or sexual orientation, acts of torture, blackmail and theft.” The Bagneux City Hall issued a statement, noting that officials were “shocked and outraged” by the attack.
In Germany, five victims were hospitalized in June 2007 after eight right‑wing extremists attacked a group of actors still costumed from their performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in Halberstadt (Saxony‑Anhalt). Four previously convicted right-wing extremists went on trial for this attack on October 9, 2007, in Magdeburg. On December 5, the four men were released from custody on the basis of insufficient evidence. One suspect, who made a partial confession, was obliged to report his whereabouts periodically to the police.
In Hungary, within a one week period, two different gay establishments in Budapest were attacked. On June 27, 2008 at 3 a.m., unknown perpetrators threw a petrol bomb at Action, a gay bar. The front room of this small bar burst into flames. The fire was extinguished, and no one was injured. It was reported that “shortly before the attack, someone called the bar and inquired if there were any guests and how long the bar would be open. Then the caller went on to threaten to attack the bar.” The police department was reportedly investigating this incident as an act of vandalism. Several LBGT rights organizations, including the Patent Association, assert that the fire should be investigated as an act of attempted murder.
On July 3, 2008, Magnum (a gay bath house, or sauna), was targeted in the early morning hours. As in the attack at Action, the perpetrators allegedly called Magnum prior to the attack. Then four petrol bombs were thrown into the sauna. The fire was promptly extinguished, although one person reported suffering from smoke inhalation. Both attacks occurred in the run-up to Budapest’s 2008 Gay Pride Week 2008.
In Ireland, on the night of June 4, 2008, 27-year-old Stephen Scott was walking home near Ballyduff Brae in Newtownabbey when he was attacked. Three youths, thought to be in their late teens, knocked him to the ground and continued kicking and punching him as they shouted homophobic insults. Scott was treated at a local hospital for a head injury, a leg injury and broken ribs. Scott stated that the attack was “enough to take a life—there were three of them on me and I was left for dead.”
In Italy, on May 24, 2008, openly gay Christian Floris, a radio personality for the popular radio station known for its LGBT-related content, DeeGay, was physically attacked late at night outside his home in Rome. There were allegedly two attackers who awaited his return underneath his porch. They smashed his head against a wall and taunted him to stop advocating for the LGBT community. As a result of the injuries sustained, Floris spent seven days in the hospital. In response to these and other incidents, Aurelio Mancuso, president of Arcigay, an LGBT rights organization, said Italy had been gripped by “a fit of homophobia.”
A Rome-based gay rights organization was also the subject of a violent attack. On April 17, 2008, a mob of youths burst into the Mario Mieli Homosexual Cultural Circle, ransacking the building while members of the center were still inside. The gang shouted antigay and antisemitic epithets when confronted by members of the center. Police were apparently investigating whether or not this group was linked to a neo-Nazi gang whose members had been arrested earlier that week.
In Kyrgyzstan, on November 26, 2007, around 10 p.m., a transgender male was attacked in the streets of Bishkek. Kyrgyzstan’s LGBT advocacy group, Labrys, reported on the incident, in which the victim recounted that two drunken men approached him and began to harass and threaten him. The victim went into a nearby supermarket to ask a security guard for assistance. The men followed him into the shop, and the guard refused to help. The assaulters continued to follow the victim through the streets, shouting obscenities and grabbing him. The victim was eventually able to escape. Labrys reported that “this situation is unfortunately very common for many LGBT people in Kyrgyzstan.”
In Portugal, in February 2008, a transgender woman was murdered in Lisbon. The victim, Luna, was 42 years old, partially deaf, and of Brazilian origin.
According to the Panteras Rosa, an organization combating hatred against LGBT persons, “Luna was a woman who fought against many obstacles and died the victim of great violence, possibly fed by hatred, prejudice and ignorance. Her body was left in a dumpster, hidden by rubble and dust, as if it was garbage, as if her life had not been worth living.”
In the Russian Federation, on June 17, 2007, several right-wing groups organized “antigay patrolling” of the Ilyinsky square in Moscow. One of the participants in the patrol, a member of the neo-Nazi Slavic Union, was seen hitting a man in the face and declaring that such people should be beaten. The victim ran away.
Also in the Russian Federation, on February 14, 2008, a group of LGBT activists in collaboration with young antifascist activists organized a manifestation on the occasion of St. Valentine’s Day. The peaceful event was targeted by a large group of neo-Nazis. Several people were attacked and one was severely wounded and hospitalized.
In Sweden, on July 27, 2008, two gay men, aged 25 and 30, were attacked by three men at a park in Stockholm. Allegedly, the couple was stopped after the attackers saw them kissing. The attackers asked for directions, then asked about the couple’s sexuality. The three offenders drew knives and robbed them of mobile phones and money. They stabbed one man in the stomach, resulting in a serious injury. Police have investigated this attack as a hate crime due to hostile slurs and the unprovoked stabbing of one of the gay men. No arrests had been made as of the end of July 2008.
In Turkey, on July 2008, 26-year-old Ahmet Yıldız was shot while leaving a cafe in Istanbul. The victim nonetheless managed to reach his car and attempted to escape the attackers. But he lost control of the car and crashed it on the side of the road. He died shortly after being brought to a local hospital. Friends of Yıldız believe that he was shot because of his sexual orientation. Yıldız had previously received death threats because of his sexuality and had on an earlier occasion filed a complaint with the police. Sedef Çakmak, an activist for Lambda Istanbul and a friend of the victim, commented: “I feel helpless: we are trying to raise awareness of gay rights in this country, but the more visible we become, the more we open ourselves up to this sort of attack.”
In the United Kingdom, Stonewall’s Homophobic Hate Crime: The Gay British Crime Survey included some of the following testimonies of harassment and violence
- “My son was constantly teased and bullied because his mum likes girls… It is the kids in the area where you live that are the problem and if it is out of school hours the schools cannot do anything. One time my son was chased up a tree and four kids stood at the bottom throwing rocks and even an open pen knife at him yelling things like ‘gay lord’ and ‘faggot.’”
- “My partner was attacked before Christmas receiving a cut to the top of his head and a broken wrist. He told the nurse at the hospital he was drunk and fell over the night before. He was in truth struck twice with a cricket bat, once from behind on his head and the second hit his arm.”
- “He was not drunk! We had just left a gay club, he was on call so could not drink. The attacker called him a fag and queer. He was chased off by a taxi driver. My partner will not report it and most of us don’t!”
- “Unfortunately I think that when it is known that someone is gay/lesbian this does put them at a higher risk. I have experienced this myself when I lived in a different area and I was seeing a girl at the time and some louts saw us walking home together. This was not in terms of very serious crimes but shouting, harassment and throwing stones, apples, etc. at us or any visitors to my house.”
In the United States, a number of cases were marked by particular brutality and lead to death.
On February 13, 2007, in Detroit, Michigan, 72-year-old Andrew Anthos was riding a bus home, and a stranger asked Anthos if he was gay, followed him off a bus, and beat him with a pipe. Anthos spent the next ten days in a coma, paralyzed from the neck down, before dying on February 23. Witnesses say the assailant, who has not been apprehended as of mid-July 2008, spewed antigay expletives in the process of attacking the senior citizen victim.
On March 14, 2007, in Wahneta, Florida, 25-year-old Ryan Keith Skipper was brutally murdered. Skipper’s body—with 20 stab wounds and a slit throat—was found on a dark, rural road in Wahneta less than 2 miles from his home. William David Brown, Jr., 20, and Joseph Eli Bearden, 21, were later indicted on robbery and first degree murder charges. Their trial, originally set for August 2008 was pushed to February 2009. The accused killers allegedly drove Ryan’s blood-soaked car around the county and bragged of killing him. According to a sheriff’s department affidavit, Ryan’s murder should be considered a hate crime since one of the men stated that Ryan was targeted because he was a “faggot.”
On February 12, 2008, in Oxnard, California, 15-year-old Lawrence King was shot twice in the head while sitting in his classroom at E.O. Green Junior High School. He was pronounced brain-dead the following afternoon and was subsequently taken off life support. According to his classmates, King was considered a social outcast and often wore makeup, jewelry and high heels to school, making him the subject of ridicule among other boys. Brandon McInerney, 14, was charged with the premeditated murder of King.