U.S. Government Authorizes Collection of Data on Crime Against Gays

The Hate Crimes Statistics Act required the U.S. attorney general to collect information on all hate-motivated crimes, including those committed against gay men and lesbians.

Summary of Event

The modern gay liberation movement in the United States was born in the 1960’s. Its growth was ignited by a 1969 incident outside the Stonewall Inn in New York City, where homosexuals rebelled against police harassment. Since the birth of the movement, various local and national gay organizations have worked to document episodes of defamation, harassment, intimidation, assault, murder, vandalism, and other abuse directed at victims because of their sexual orientation. In 1978, when San Francisco mayor George Moscone Moscone, George and an openly gay city councilman, Harvey Milk, Milk, Harvey were murdered, members of the gay community nationwide pointed to the incident as another example of violence motivated by hatred or resentment of gay people. Hate Crimes Statistics Act (1990)
Homosexuality;hate crimes
Gay rights;hate crimes
Hate crimes
[kw]U.S. Government Authorizes Collection of Data on Crime Against Gays (Apr. 23, 1990)
[kw]Government Authorizes Collection of Data on Crime Against Gays, U.S. (Apr. 23, 1990)
[kw]Data on Crime Against Gays, U.S. Government Authorizes Collection of (Apr. 23, 1990)
[kw]Crime Against Gays, U.S. Government Authorizes Collection of Data on (Apr. 23, 1990)
[kw]Gays, U.S. Government Authorizes Collection of Data on Crime Against (Apr. 23, 1990)
Hate Crimes Statistics Act (1990)
Homosexuality;hate crimes
Gay rights;hate crimes
Hate crimes
[g]North America;Apr. 23, 1990: U.S. Government Authorizes Collection of Data on Crime Against Gays[07700]
[g]United States;Apr. 23, 1990: U.S. Government Authorizes Collection of Data on Crime Against Gays[07700]
[c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Apr. 23, 1990: U.S. Government Authorizes Collection of Data on Crime Against Gays[07700]
[c]Civil rights and liberties;Apr. 23, 1990: U.S. Government Authorizes Collection of Data on Crime Against Gays[07700]
[c]Social issues and reform;Apr. 23, 1990: U.S. Government Authorizes Collection of Data on Crime Against Gays[07700]
Bush, George H. W.
[p]Bush, George H. W.;Hate Crimes Statistics Act
Simon, Paul (U.S. senator)
Berrill, Kevin
Vaid, Urvashi
Helms, Jesse

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) was organized in 1972 to lobby, educate, and demonstrate for the rights and full equality of lesbians and gay men. In 1984, this group published the results of the first national study focused exclusively on antigay violence. The researchers surveyed more than two thousand lesbians and gay men in eight U.S. cities, and their report revealed that 44 percent of those surveyed had been threatened with physical violence and 94 percent had experienced some type of victimization (from being spat on or chased to suffering physical assault or police abuse) because they were homosexuals. The report also emphasized that fear of antigay violence profoundly affected the attitudes and behaviors of the men and women surveyed. Most of the respondents believed they might become victims of hate crimes in the future, and nearly half reported that they had modified their behaviors to reduce the risk of attack—avoiding certain locations, for instance, or refraining from showing any affection in public.

The NGLTF study, as well as other studies conducted in the 1980’s by government agencies and academic researchers, showed that the problem of antigay violence in the United States was widespread. Furthermore, the NGLTF held that the numbers in any study might greatly underestimate the seriousness of the problem, given that many victims of antigay violence or harassment were afraid to report the attacks against them for fear that such reporting might result in more abuse.

During the 1980’s, in fact, lesbian and gay men’s community organizations reported a dramatic increase in antigay violence and harassment. By 1990, the number of antigay episodes, from harassment to homicide, reported by local groups to the NGLTF had more than tripled since the task force’s first official report six years earlier. The rise could have reflected better documenting of the antigay incidents, but records kept by several gay assistance groups and by police departments indicated that violence and victimization were indeed growing. For example, the New York Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project experienced a threefold increase in the number of clients seen in the period from 1984 to 1989.

When acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) became a major health issue and a major media focus in the early to mid-1980’s, the disease’s initial association with the gay community caused even more antigay sentiment to be asserted. HIV/AIDS[HIV AIDS] Even if AIDS was not a direct cause of antigay violence, for many it seemed to provide a new focus and justification for antigay prejudice. In a 1988 survey, gay men and lesbians reported that they had recently experienced violence or harassment that was AIDS-related, such as being called a “plague-carrying faggot.” Although such antigay bias may not have been a recent development, the increased visibility of lesbians and gay men in American society in the late 1980’s was new. After the onset of the AIDS epidemic, the amount of media attention paid to gay rights issues increased dramatically. Although greater visibility could have led to greater understanding and acceptance, it also triggered more hostility toward homosexuals and made them more identifiable targets for harassment and violence.

The findings of the numerous surveys and studies carried out in the 1980’s testified to the heavy prices paid by victims of antigay prejudice. The numerical measures in reports on antigay violence could only suggest, not quantitatively relate, the fear and anguish experienced by survivors of antigay-motivated assaults and those who shared their communities. Members of the country’s gay communities believed they were suffering harsh setbacks in their efforts toward equal rights and total acceptance. Gay activists called for greater study of antigay prejudice and violence and for an organized response from public officials, educators, and all people of conscience concerned with civil rights.

Since 1983, the NGLTF had been actively lobbying for passage of the Federal Hate Crimes Statistics Act. On May 18, 1988, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 3193, a bill requiring federal collection of statistics on crimes based on “homosexuality or heterosexuality,” race, religion, and ethnic background. This victory in the House marked the first time a chamber of Congress had passed a piece of legislation recognizing the victimization of lesbians and gay men.

An equivalent bill in the Senate was stymied by North Carolina senator Jesse Helms, an opponent of civil rights for homosexuals. Helms threatened to delay Senate business unless an amendment he drafted was added to the bill. The amendment stated that homosexuality threatened the strength of the American family unit, that state sodomy laws should be enforced, that the federal government should not provide discrimination protection on the basis of sexual orientation, and that school curricula should not condone homosexuality. Helms’s efforts killed the measure.

The Hate Crimes Statistics Act was reintroduced in both the House (H.R. 1048) and the Senate (S. 419) on February 22, 1989. It passed in the House by an overwhelming margin, but it again languished in the Senate because of Helms’s delaying tactics.

Gay groups had shared a minor victory in 1988, however, when the Presidential Commission on the Human Immunodeficiency Virus Epidemic Presidential Commission on the Human Immunodeficiency Virus Epidemic gave public acknowledgment to the problem of antigay violence in its final report, which stated that “increasing violence against those perceived to carry HIV, so-called ’hate crimes,’ are a serious problem.” Also during 1988, three major professional organizations—the American Sociological Association, American Sociological Association the American Association for the Study of Social Problems, American Association for the Study of Social Problems and the American Society of Criminologists American Society of Criminologists —passed resolutions condemning antigay violence and calling for research on the problem. In June, 1989, the National Institute of Mental Health National Institute of Mental Health held a groundbreaking national research workshop on antigay violence cochaired by Kevin Berrill, director of the NGLTF’s Anti-Violence Project, and Gregory Herek Herek, Gregory of the University of California, Davis. All these events reflected a national willingness, concern, and need to express solidarity with and support for gay people who were being oppressed by the threat of violence and harassment from those who actively opposed their right to live openly as homosexuals.

In 1990, the Hate Crimes Statistics Act finally passed both houses of Congress after the third year of intense lobbying by the NGLTF and a wide array of religious, professional, law-enforcement, and civil rights organizations. Senator Helms’s opposition was overcome by supporters of the bill, led by Senators Paul Simon and Orrin G. Hatch. Hatch, Orrin G. The measure—which required the Department of Justice to collect data on crimes based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity—passed the Senate on February 8, 1990, by a vote of ninety-two to four, and on April 23, 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed it into law.

Unlike most bills, the Hate Crimes Statistics Act was signed in a public ceremony. More than twenty gay activists were present at the event, which marked the first time gay activists had been invited formally to a presidential bill signing. During the ceremony, President Bush declared his hopes for “a society blind to prejudice, a society open to all.” Notably absent at the signing was Urvashi Vaid, executive director of the NGLTF, who was not invited allegedly because she had heckled Bush during a March 29, 1990, speech he gave concerning AIDS.


Some high-ranking members of the Republican Party were concerned that Bush’s signing of the bill might be perceived by his conservative supporters as an endorsement of homosexuality, and they feared that the president might alienate his own base. For many, the greatest significance of the act’s passage was not its mandate of the compilation of statistics on hate crimes, but the fact that it wrote “sexual orientation” into federal law for the first time. Whereas Bush perceived the main issue as tolerance for homosexuals, gay lobbyists saw the signing as a positive step toward legitimacy for gay men and lesbians in American society. “I was encouraged . . . that the Bush White House is not afraid to talk to or deal with gay and lesbian organizations,” said Urvashi Vaid.

Of immediate concern was how the Hate Crimes Statistics Act would be implemented. The Federal Bureau of Investigation Federal Bureau of Investigation;hate crime statistics (FBI) was assigned this task, and the NGLTF’s Anti-Violence Project was invited to work with the FBI to discuss and plan implementation. The NGLTF continued to lobby for funding and took part in monitoring law-enforcement training concerning hate crimes. The group’s members worked closely with the FBI to develop reporting guidelines and training materials. In 1991, Berrill and Vaid took part in a press conference at the FBI to announce the agency’s progress in implementing the Hate Crimes Statistics Act—the first time gay and lesbian activists had been invited to an official FBI event.

Many state legislatures followed suit after passage of the federal act. More laws to counteract antigay crimes were passed in 1990 than in any previous year, as new legislation in Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Vermont brought to twelve the number of states with laws that penalized crimes based on victims’ sexual orientation. In the years that followed, many more states passed legislation addressing antigay violence and other crimes motivated by bigotry.

The Immigration Act of 1990 Immigration Act (1990) (which removed restrictions against gay men and lesbians entering the United States) and the Americans with Disabilities Act Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) (which banned discrimination against people with AIDS and HIV) were other important political victories for gay people that came on the heels of the passage of the Hate Crimes Statistics Act. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 Civil Rights Act of 1991 banned discrimination on the basis of affection or sexual orientation in housing, employment, federally assisted programs, and public accommodations. Hate Crimes Statistics Act (1990)
Homosexuality;hate crimes
Gay rights;hate crimes
Hate crimes

Further Reading

  • Herek, Gregory M., and Kevin T. Berrill. Hate Crimes: Confronting Violence Against Lesbians and Gay Men. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage, 1992. Overview of antigay violence juxtaposes research findings with accounts of survivors of hate crimes. Concludes with a discussion of the implications of antigay hate crimes for public policy. Includes a foreword by John Conyers, Jr., who was lead sponsor in the House of Representatives for the Hate Crimes Statistics Act. Gives an overview of antigay violence and victimization.

  • Journal of Interpersonal Violence 5 (September, 1990). Special issue coedited by Gregory M. Herek and Kevin Berrill is devoted to articles on the subject of antigay violence. Represents the first major published body of information on violence against lesbians and gay men.
  • Levin, Jack. The Violence of Hate: Confronting Racism, Anti-Semitism, and Other Forms of Bigotry. 2d ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2006. Examines the nature of hate crimes and provides analysis of the perpetrators of such crimes as well as the varying levels of violence involved. Includes bibliographic references and index.
  • Perry, Barbara. In the Name of Hate: Understanding Hate Crimes. New York: Routledge, 2001. Presents a historical survey of hate crimes and addresses the legal aspects of such criminal activity. Calls for an expansion of hate crime legislation. Supplemented with tables, bibliography, informative appendixes, and index.
  • Roleff, Tamara L., ed. Hate Crimes. San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press, 2001. Collection of essays written by prominent thinkers provides a balanced survey of the issue of hate crimes. Includes bibliographic references and index.

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