“In law, [a hate crime is] a crime directed at a person on the basis of characteristics such as race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. The concept emerged in the U.S. in the late 1970s, and since then laws have been passed in many U.S. states mandating additional penalties for violent crimes motivated by bias or bigotry against particular groups.” (Encyclopædia Britannica)

These actions may be caused by cultural, religious, or political conventions and biases. They may or may not be supported by the country’s legislation.

Institutionalized discrimination against the gays goes back to at least 550 BC, with the Abrahamic laws against sexual intercourse between men, as recorded in the Leviticus book of the Bible. Similar laws are found in Ancient Rome, protohistoric Germanic culture and the Middle Assyrian Law.

With the establishment of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire, discrimination intensified into persecution. Homosexual sex was declared illegal circa 400 AD with a condemnation to be publicly burned alive. Homosexuals were thought to be responsible for problems such as “famines, earthquakes, and pestilences.”

Muslim countries have had similar laws from the beginnings of Islam in the seventh century up to the present day.

Homosexuals faced the death penalty throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in France and Italy.

In England, the Buggery Act, punishing sodomy by death, was in place from 1534 until 1861.

Homosexuals were also persecuted in Nazi Germany, along with the Jews and Gypsies notably.

Nowadays, most Western countries abandoned these anti-gay laws, whereas 76 countries still criminalize consensual homosexuality in violation to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In particular, Iran, Sudan, Yemen, Mauritania and Saudi Arabia still punish homosexuality with the death penalty.

Still, even in the most economically and socially developed countries, homophobia remains in the moral attitudes of citizens, materialized in the form of everyday discrimination and violent hate crimes.

The FBI reported that anti-gay hate crimes have been escalating since 2005. Violent hate crimes against LGBT people grew by 24% between 2006 and 2007, and another 2% in 2008 according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP).This increase in numbers, though consistent with the state of unabashed homophobia in North America, also comes from a greater number of anti-gay hate crimes being actually reported to authorities. In 2008 in the USA, 7,783 hate crimes were reported to the FBI and seven murders were categorized as hate crimes. Half of all hate crimes were motivated by race. One out of every five was driven by religious bias, and over 16% is based on sexual orientation bias.

This 16% figure – consistent in Canada and the US -  is underestimated, Statistics Canada reckoning that 75 % of anti-LGBTQ cases still go unreported.

The US bill expanding hate crimes covered by the Federal law to sexual orientation bias was just passed in October 2009, which also explains the absence of anti-transgender hate crimes is the US stats.

Many LGBTQ victims still avoid declaring a hate crime for sexual orientation for fear of the consequences. Moreover, due to the history of light sentences, disregarding judges and outrageous defense lines such as the “gay panic defense”, there is a distrust of victims towards the police and the legal system to respond to the crimes.

The Matthew Shepard Act is the first Federal law to acknowledge the transgender and gender non-conforming people and extend to them legal protection. Although statistics regarding trans-related hate crimes are not yet available, it is admitted that the trans community faces the most violence.

The Transgender Europe network’s “Trans Murder Monitoring project” states 162 reported murders of trans people in 2009, worldwide, 13 in the USA. According to a survey by the DC Trans Coalition, there were 16 reported crimes motivated by prejudice due to gender identity or expression on trans and gender non-conforming people in the sole District of Columbia between 2007 and 2009, up to 18% of all recorded anti-LGBT hate crimes.


Today, hate crimes against women and LGBT people tend to be especially violent, frequently involving physical and mental torture.

The 2009 Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey in Canada found that approximately 75% of sexual-orientation related hate crimes were of a violent nature (compared to 38% of racially motivated offenses and 25% of religious related hate crimes). In the same year in the United States, the FBI reported that 5 murders and 6 rapes were committed based on sexual orientation (compared to one murder and one rape due to racial bias).

The particularly violent case of Matthew Shepard in 1998 shook up the political class and international public. Matthew Shepard, 21 years old, was robbed, tortured and left for dead by two young men. The court failed to charge the two men with a hate crime sentence, sparing them the maximum sentence, as no Wyoming criminal statute provided for such a charge. In the US, 31 states include sexual orientation as a specific hate-crime. Only 12 states and the District of Columbia, actually include both sexual orientation and gender identity.

Following the emotion triggered by Matthew Shepard’s death and the rise of awareness about violent homophobia, several attempts of passing a Federal hate-crime law including sex-orientation concerns were led over the years but failed to be passed by Congress. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd’s Hate Crime Prevention Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama on October 28, 2009. This measure expands the 1969 United States federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. The Act is the first federal law to extend legal protections to transgender persons.

To learn more or get involved to fight hate, visit the Matthew Shepard Foundation’s website