CHARLOTTE, N.C. — New data from the FBI reveals a rise in reported hate crime incidents motivated by sexual orientation across the country and in North Carolina last year. Some advocates say the divisive and inflammatory rhetoric of the state’s anti-gay lobby is to blame.

Nationally, the number of hate crimes targeting gay men and women rose from 1,277 in 2010 to 1,293 in 2011.

Donielle Prophete and Kimberly Pitter, sisters of transgender Charlottean and April 2010 murder victim Toni Alston, pictured here at a Transgender Day of Remembrance event in November 2010.

The national increase reflects similar trends in North Carolina where law enforcement agencies reported 14 anti-gay bias-motivated incidents in 2010 and 17 in 2011. In South Carolina, the number of anti-gay hate crimes decreased from 29 in 2010 to 20 last year.

Crime Statistics

North Carolina
Race: 51
Religion: 13
Sex. Or.: 14
Ethnicity: 6
Disability: 0

Race: 65
Religion: 17
Sex. Or.: 17
Ethnicity: 13
Disability: 0

South Carolina
Race: 54
Religion: 19
Sex. Or.: 29
Ethnicity: 5
Disability: 2

Race: 64
Religion: 36
Sex. Or.: 20
Ethnicity: 13
Disability: 2

While anti-gay hate crimes rose, most other crimes fell. In 2010, the FBI received reports on 3,135 race-motivated incidents, 1,322 religion-motivated incidents and 847 ethnicity/national origin incidents. In 2011, those numbers dropped to 2,917, 1,233 and 720, respectively. Crimes motivated by disability, however, rose from 43 to 53.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), said the new data on anti-gay incidents should be taken seriously.

“The 2011 FBI hate crimes data is a sad reminder that even as we make great strides toward equality under the law, LGBT people face dangers in America,” Griffin said in a release on Monday. “We must rid our country of the violence that has devastated our community for far too long.”

Early this year, researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles’ Williams Institute analyzed hate crime data from 2010 and reported that gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals were at a much higher risk of falling victim to bias-motivated incidents. Twenty-six out of every 100,000 gay men and 10 out of every 100,000 lesbian women were victims of hate crimes. Five out of every 100,000 black and Jewish people reported being hate crime victims.

In the Carolinas, hate crimes motivated by race, religion and ethnicity/national origin also rose.

Increased reporting in North Carolina

Individual law enforcement agencies like city police departments and county sheriff departments are able to provide hate crime data to the FBI but are not required to do so. Even when they do provide statistics, they may not be complete. Nationally, only 1,944 out of a total 14,977 participating agencies reported at least one bias-motivated incident. The Human Rights Campaign said that number was a near-decade low.

The increase in bias-motivated incidents in North Carolina could be the result of better reporting and policing as local law enforcement agencies begin to recognize bias-motivated crimes and document them for reporting to the FBI.

In 2010, 45 law enforcement agencies across the state reported at least one incident. Last year, that number rose to 49. In total, 464 separate law enforcement agencies in North Carolina reported no hate crime statistics of any kind to the FBI in 2011. In 2010, 470 agencies reported zero crimes.

Two of the reported hate crimes occurred on college campuses. North Carolina State University reported one anti-gay hate crime in 2010 and another in October 2011 when vandals spray-painted “Fags Burn” and “Die” on the campus’ LGBT student center. Similar anti-gay messages saying “F–k Gays” were spray-painted on Appalachian State University’s free expression tunnel the same month. Appalachian police reported one anti-gay hate crime in 2011.

Greensboro saw the largest increase in total reported hate crimes. In 2010, the city reported four crimes. In 2011, they reported 12, 11 of which were motivated by race.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) saw a total decrease. In 2010, Charlotte police reported six race-motivated, five religion-motivated, two sexual orientation-motivated and one ethnicity-motivated crimes. Those numbers dropped in 2011 to three race-motivated, three religion-motivated and one sexual orientation-motivated crimes.

“It’s encouraging to see fewer of these offenses, but as a department we consider one hate crime one too many,” CMPD spokesperson Rob Tufano.

Advocates react

LGBT activists in North Carolina reacted swiftly to the reported rise.

Stuart Campbell is executive director of Equality North Carolina, a statewide LGBT education and advocacy organization.

“These numbers reflect a sad reality in North Carolina where the LGBT community has been under attack since the General Assembly first began consideration of Amendment One in 2011,” Campbell said, noting an anti-LGBT state constitutional amendment approved by legislators in 2011 and passed by voters 61-39 percent in May.

“The hateful and inflammatory language used by Amendment One proponents and their allies in the legislature have given rise to a perception that it is OK to not only verbally bash our community, but to physically do so as well,” Campbell continued. “We continue to work towards the day when all North Carolinians receive the respect and dignity that they deserve, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.”

Roberta Dunn, vice chair of the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte Board of Trustees, said she was disappointed FBI data didn’t include crimes committed against transgender people.

“When they put this together they could have included that,” Dunn said. “Why do they always want to exclude some portion of a minority?”

HRC points out that the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act will require the FBI to begin tracking crimes motivated by bias against gender identity. That data collection will begin in 2013 and available in 2014. HRC said it and other organizations have been working with the FBI to implement the data collection changes and assisting in updating the agency’s crime reporting form and training materials.

Dunn said fully tracking hate crimes against all LGBT people will provide more accurate data. Until the FBI begins collecting it, Dunn encourages local citizens and community leaders to meet with their police officials.

“I like to go in and talk to people and explain why [these issues are] important,” Dunn said.

2010 murder still under investigation

Dunn also noted concern over a 2010 murder investigation that has yet to be solved. In April 2010, transgender Charlottean Toni Alston was shot at the front door of her home in West Charlotte. She died after being able to get assistance from a neighbor. (Related story: “Info sought in Charlotte transgender murder” April 22, 2010.)

In November, Alston’s sister, Donielle Prophete, said her sister’s investigation was now considered a “cold case.” (Related story: “Charlotte community marks Trans Day of Remembrance” Nov. 19, 2012.)

But Tufano said CMPD still considers the case active and said it is still assigned to its original investigator.

No evidence has ever surfaced to indicate that Alston’s gender identity played a role in the murder. Investigators have said it might have been an attempted robbery.

“It was never reported to FBI as a hate crime because we don’t know the circumstances that led to the murder,” Tufano added.

Dunn said she doesn’t believe first responders did all they could to correctly ascertain how the crime unfolded. Alston told first responders that she knew her assailant, but Dunn said no one asked her the assailant’s name.

“None of them asked her what the name of the person was,” Dunn said. “They had three different opportunities to ask that. It could have been the same name or three different names, but they never asked that question.”

Dunn has also doubted that robbery was the motivation for the crime. Nothing was ever taken from Alston’s home, including several valuable objects sitting in plain sight, Dunn said.

Alston’s murder and the resulting investigation prompted local discussion on the need for better communication between police and the local LGBT community. Dunn played a key role in those conversations, sparking changes to police training and a first-ever LGBT community forum with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe. Unlike other southern jurisdictions, including Atlanta, Raleigh and Richland County, S.C., CMPD has yet to establish an LGBT police liaison. (Related stories: “Charlotte murder prompts community concern” May 1, 2010, and “CMPD liaison conversations are needed” May 1, 2010.)

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.