Five years ago today, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act expanded the scope of prosecutable hate crimes to include crimes motivated by sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability. While LGBT advocates considered the 2009 legislation a major victory, limitations in the application of federal law mean that it's up to states to cement hate-crime legislation. Some states have taken further steps, but many haven't—and that's where LGBT advocates are now focusing their efforts.
Some hate crimes can't be prosecuted as such in the absence of state-level laws, says Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign. For one thing, the federal hate-crimes law is limited to violent crime, so property crimes like vandalism aren't covered by the 2009 act. Further, crimes that don't cross state boundaries—a requirement for federal involvement—are outside the law's jurisdiction. "Certain types of crimes, particularly those that take place on private property without the use of a weapon of any sort, are where the federal law just can't reach," Warbelow says.
A new report HRC published Tuesday shows how state-level hate LGBT crime laws are playing out. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have laws that cover hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity; 15 more cover only sexual orientation. Another 15 have hate-crime legislation, but don't address sexual orientation or gender identity, and five don't have any hate-crime legislation at all.