HATE CRIMES HURT FAMILIES
“It scared me to death,” Georgia
Feiste remembers. She was home alone at 10 p.m., when a bullet pierced
through the kitchen window, narrowly missing her. It was the latest in
a string of escalating attacks on the Feistes by classmates of their then-16-year-old
gay son. It began with pranks Feiste thought of as “harmless kid stuff,”
like eggs thrown at the their house. But before long, the family car was
vandalized and a Molotov cocktail bomb landed in their front yard. Then
Georgia Feiste was shot at as she stood in her kitchen. “They were targeting
our whole family, because our son is gay,” Feiste says. When local police
finally confronted the teens, they confessed. But the perpetrators were
not charged with hate crimes. Feiste suspects the police “just didn’t want
to deal with it.”
are forever changed. I am grateful that my healing allows me to feel more,
even when that which I feel is the loss of my beautiful baby boy. Even
when the feelings are so hard."
— Gabi Clayton
son, 17, committed suicide after being the victim of a hate crime.
crimes are those in which victims are chosen solely or primarily because
of their actual or presumed sexual/affectional orientation or preference,
gender identity and/or status (1).
Hate crimes are also committed based on race, religion, disability, ethnicity
and national origin (2). Hate
crimes may include property crimes or physical violence resulting in injury.
Hate crimes are unique because they send messages to entire groups — as
well as to their families and other supporters — that they are unwelcome
and unsafe in particular communities. Most anti-gay
hate crimes are committed by otherwise law-abiding young people who see
little wrong with their actions (3),
and who sometimes believe that they have societal permission to engage
in such violence (4).
IMPACT OF HATE CRIMES
hate crimes are attacks on identity, they may have more serious psychological
effects on victims than do other crimes. Depression, stress and anger are
more prevalent in hate crime survivors than in survivors of comparable
non-bias-motivated crimes. These feelings can last up to five years for
gay and lesbian victim of hate crimes, while lasting up to two years for
victims of non-bias-related crimes (5).
studies have been conducted on families of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered
(g/l/b/t) people. But anecdotal experience suggests that the more severe,
lasting effects g/l/b/t people experience after hate crimes can be reasonably
extrapolated to family members of victims, or families who are themselves
IMPACT ON FAMILIES
share some of the long-term effects of hate crime victims, there are some
implications that are unique to family members. They may feel guilty for
not having protected their g/l/b/t loved ones. Like those actually targeted
by hate crimes, families may feel isolated or helpless. Their effectiveness
on the job, at home or in school may be affected. If the perpetrator is
not arrested and convicted, they may lose faith in the justice system.
Light sentencing may cause further disillusionment.
to the psychological affects hate crimes have on families, there are practical
concerns, as well. Depending on the crime, there may be repairs to pay
for, or medical bills or funeral expenses. Trials and court appearances
can prolong the grieving process, as can parole hearings. If there is media
coverage of the hate crime, a family may find itself dealing with intensely
personal issues very publicly (6).
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
education and legislative advocacy, families nationwide are bringing attention
to hate crimes, as well as to vehicles that can help prevent bias-motivated
Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA) remains in Congress. It would strengthen existing
federal hate crime laws by allowing the U.S. Dept. of Justice to assist
in local prosecutions and, where appropriate, to investigate and prosecute
cases in which violence occurs because of the victim’s sexual orientation,
disability or gender. It also would eliminate obstacles to federal involvement
in many cases of assault or murder based on race or religion. PFLAG works
within diverse local and national coalitions — recognizing commonalities
of targeted groups, such as religion, race and ethnicity — to pass HCPA
and state hate crime laws. PFLAG also dispels myths about hate crime legislation,
noting that it covers acts or violence (not speech) and protects the First
nationwide, PFLAG chapters have initiated programs to educate the public
about the link between hate speech and violence. In some communities, like
Henderson, Kentucky, PFLAG sponsors billboards and newspaper advertisements.
Elsewhere, such as in San Diego, California, PFLAG chapters run public
service announcements on television.
more about efforts in your community — or to get involved in advocating
for state and federal legislation that protects all Americans from bias-motivated
crime — call PFLAG at 202-638-4200, or visit our web site,
(1) National Coalition of Anti-Violence
(2) U.S. Dept. of Justice definition.
(3) American Psychological
Association, Hate Crimes Today: An Age-Old Foe in Modern Dress (1998)
(4) Franklin, Karen; Washington
Institute for Mental Illness Research and Training (as reported by the
American Psychological Association)
(5) Herek, Gregory (University
of California, Davis) ; Gillis, Roy J (University of Toronto); Cogan; Jeanine
(American Psychological Association); “Psychological Sequelae of Hate Crime
Victimization Among Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Adults”; Journal of Consulting
and Clinical Psychology (1999)
(6) (Entire section) Parents
of Murdered Children; Problems of Survivors (1999)
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