Although crimes against gays decreased in general last year, there was a jump in the number of violent attacks against them, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported last week.
The NCAVP, compiling information from 26 community groups across the country, found 2,552 crimes against gays in 1998 compared with 2,665 in 1997.
But, the actual or suspected antigay murders climbed to 33 in 1998, compared with 14 in 1997, according to the report. Assaults where victims sustained major injuries grew by 12 percent (to 278 cases), with inpatient hospitalization escalating by 108 percent (to 110 cases), the report says.
Sean Kosofski, associate director of policy for the Detroit-based Triangle Foundation, which contributed data to the study, says a hostile ad campaign launched by conservative religious groups last year is partly to blame for the rise in brutality. He says a dozen or so organizations, including the Family Research Council, ran full-page newspaper ads that were antigay.
"I really attribute the increased hostile climate and hate-crime violence to the rhetoric from the religious right" and conservative elected officials, says Kosofski.
Kristin Hansen, spokesperson with the Family Research Council, says that there was nothing in the ads that was violent or incited violence. "We condemn violence against individuals," she says.
After Matthew Shepard, a young gay man, was tied to a post and beaten to death in Wyoming last year, the country was very sympathetic to the gay community, says Kosofski. But antigay backlash quickly followed, he adds, saying that in Michigan alone three gays were killed following the Shepard slaying.
The use of weapons in conjunction with assaults against gays also increased. The report states that firearm use rose 71 percent, use of bats, clubs and blunt objects was up 47 percent, and use of ropes and restraints increased 133 percent.
Police entrapment of gays and lesbians also rose by 10 percent in 1998, according to the report.
Kosofski says that one way to prevent antigay violence is through legislation. Currently, 40 states have hate crime laws, but only 21 states have statutes that include sexual orientation. He says Wisconsin has seen a dramatic decline in hate crimes against gays since it adopted this language about a decade ago. Kosofski believes it would also enable police officers to track and enforce hate crimes against gays.
Last week, President Bill Clinton called for expanding national laws against hate crimes to include crimes against homosexuals.