Varieties of Hate Crime Victimization
Picture   The Varieties of Hate Crime Victimization

We interviewed 450 of the lesbian, gay, and bisexual participants in our large-scale questionnaire study. About one-third of them told us that they had been the victim of a crime or attempted crime based on their sexual orientation, and we asked them about their experiences.

What follows is a description of the varieties of hate crime victimization described by the men and women in the sample. When necessary, we have edited the transcripts slightly for clarity and to protect the identities of respondents.

The anecdotes related by interviewees are not necessarily representative of the victimization experiences of all gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals. But they illustrate some of the forms taken by antigay attacks, and the variety of people who perpetrate such attacks.

The details of our methodology and complete results are reported in our paper, "Victim Experiences in Hate Crimes Based on Sexual Orientation," published in 2002 in the Journal of Social Issues (a preprint can be downloaded from this site).

Victimization in

Consistent with previous research, many interviewees described antigay crimes perpetrated by groups of strangers in proximity to a gay-identified venue. The severity of such attacks ranged from harassment and threats to physical assault and, in the case of one interviewee, the murder of a friend.

The story told by one lesbian was typical of many incidents described by interviewees.

I was parked in the lot of a gay bar and if you were parked there it was obvious you were in the gay bar.... And I came out to my car and my front windshield was smashed in by what appeared to be a baseball bat. The side mirrors were beat, it was totally shattered....

A gay man described how he had walked to his car in the parking lot of a gay bar.

There was a car driving by that had some guys in it that were throwing out "queer, faggot." They pulled up in the parking lot and started to come towards my car... started to damage my car in whatever way they could. They pulled on the radio antenna, bent it up, bent the windshield wipers, and basically the bouncer saw them and got rid of them before anything else happened.

Some victims suffered assault but were not seriously injured. One respondent, for example, described being followed by a truck as he walked home one night from a gay bar.

These 4 guys started yelling these great slurs at me, called me "faggot...." Then I started getting scared. The next thing you know, that truck stops, this guy jumps out. He has an egg in his hand. At first I didn't know it was an egg in his hand. I didn't see the egg, I saw his hand. Now everybody else didn't get out of the truck, but you know that was a possibility, that could have happened too, wasn't there? He then called me faggot and he threw the egg and hit me right here, it hit me right here in the chest.... You tell me if I wasn't scared. None of the other guys got out of the truck, and then he simply calmly got back, jumped back into the truck and sped off.

This man's story highlights the fear associated with such an experience. Most likely, he was aware that antigay incidents often end in serious injury or even death for the victim. During the crime, he could not know that only one of the truck's occupants would attack him or that he would be struck with an egg rather than a more lethal weapon. Thus, despite the absence of serious physical harm, the attack evoked considerable fear. Because fears of serious injury and death during a crime are associated with the degree of psychological trauma it inflicts, even seemingly minor incidents can have a negative aftermath for the victim.

Another man and his friend were approached by two strangers as they left a gay bar. Sensing trouble, they hurried to their car and locked the doors.

They approached, one on each side. They tried opening my door, both doors, they could not. The leader of the two was on my side. I cracked my window and they kept telling me to get out, they wanted to talk to me, and I refused. I asked him what did he want. They kept telling me to get out, they wanted to talk to me. My friend and I happened to look at each other in the same instant and we both yelled "bashers".... The men were yelling obscenities and derogatory anti-gay names.... "You fucking faggot...." I tried to start the car and it wouldn't start. They tried to beat my windows in with beer bottles, kicking my doors in. Finally, the car started and I threw it in reverse, backed up, and threw it in drive and took off like a bat outta' hell.

Other victims were not so fortunate. According to the respondent who described the preceding incident, the same men returned to the bar one week later and "got somebody else."

Another man described an attack as he arrived at a gay bar.

I got out of my vehicle. A car with 3 guys pulled up, asked me a question: "Is this a gay bar?" I walked closer to the vehicle to answer. The driver was getting out of the vehicle...and I knew what was happening. So I ran. They chased me toward the bar. They caught me, grabbed me by the shirt, slammed me against a glass store front. Tore my shirt and kicked me. Screamed "faggot."

Many attacks caused serious injury or had deadly consequences. One man described how he was assaulted and his friend was murdered while visiting a Southern city.

[We] walked outside the bar and there were about six guys standing on the corner down from the bar. Our car was parked right on the corner of where they were. As we were walking towards them, they saw us coming and started walking towards us. They started calling us "fags," saying "fags," "look at the fags" and "nigger fag." ...They said "We're going to kill us some faggots today" and "we don't want fags in [this city]".... They attacked us with bricks and clubs. [My friend] was hit in the head with a brick, and when he went down, they hit him more in the head with bricks and clubs till he stopped moving. I was hit in the legs with a club, and broke my knee cap. The other two friends got away and went back into the bar to call the police, and came out with more people from the bar, and chased the attackers away until the police got there. The police took about 20 minutes to get there and the ambulance almost a half an hour. By that time [my friend] had already expired. He died in my arms.


Victimization in
Other Public

Going to a gay-identified establishment carries the risk of verbal harassment, vandalism, and physical assault. However, the interviews also made it clear that any public space is potentially dangerous. One woman, for example, described her experience in a public park with a group of women friends when three men walked past and harassed them.

We were in a line on the sidewalk and they walked down the line and they apparently patted or pinched one woman on the butt, and she kind of knocked their hand out of the way.... When they reached me...they pinched me on the butt. And my girlfriend saw this and said "Get your hands off her." So they stopped, turned around and said "Want to fight, bitch?" We kind of circled up and, you know, we were all facing them and said "No, leave us alone, get out of here." We tried to get them to leave and they wouldn't. When she said she didn't want to fight, he just stuck his fist out and broke her nose...As he was getting ready to throw the punch ... he said "fucking dykes...." One person [got] a cut open on their cheek, face. And another one had her collarbone broken and got knocked unconscious. I got kicked in the knee and upper thigh and was severely bruised. And then somebody came by and helped scare them away for us.

A man described his experience while jogging near a river, wearing a singlet with a lavender triangle emblem.

There were five or six youths between 18 and 22. They were drinking and I had stopped to cool off at the river. They grabbed stones and were cornering me against the river and the dam, with threats and comments.... Their comments were "We hate you gays...." They threw stones, large riverbed stones at me.... To leap into the river would have been to go over the dam, and it's a very deadly dam.... I knew that was no route to escape. And so the only possibility was to leap and escape running. I tried to distract them in some way, verbally, and move away from the river to sprint away from them.

Another woman was harassed while riding her bicycle one afternoon.

I heard some guys kinda' yelling and screaming. I tried to ignore them. Then suddenly beer cans were being thrown at me. They pulled up next to me and they were throwing beer cans at me and making derogatory remarks.... "fucking faggot," "fucking queer".... "fucking dyke".... They stopped in back of me and I continued riding away from them. And they started up again, coming up from behind, continuing with derogatory remarks and then saying "Let's get her and let's get that bike." They made a motion as though some of them were going to get out of their car, and that's when I took off on my bike and got the hell outta' there.

In these situations, the victims were not in a gay-identified setting but their sexual orientation was assumed by the perpetrators on the basis of contextual cues. The woman in the park was with a group of women, the jogger was wearing a singlet with a gay symbol on it, and the bicyclist was wearing a shirt with the word "lesbian" prominently displayed. Their experiences suggest that, although gay venues are often sites of attacks, being identified as gay or bisexual in any public setting carries a risk.


At Home

Nor is one's home a safe refuge. Many interviewees had their house, car, or other personal property stolen, vandalized, or destroyed in antigay incidents. One man described the events on a day when he and his lover were leaving on a fishing trip.

We got up very early that morning and got in the car and backed out of the garage. And it has an automatic closer and it went down and it said — I don't remember the words but it was something about "fag" or "faggot." Several words, but I don't remember what they were, sprayed onto the redwood garage door in black paint.

Another woman described a similar act of vandalism.

[They] took grass and filled my car up. Put nails in all my tires and spray painted "queer" all over my car.

In some cases, the incident was part of an ongoing pattern of harassment. One woman described a series of incidents perpetrated by neighbors.

We had some teenage boys living on our street that were apparently upset that we were gay.... They took a board or something to the mailbox, beat it out of shape. But they'd [also] leave dog shit on the front porch, light it on fire, yelling obscenities at us, throwing rocks at our daughter.

Another woman had a similar experience.

"My significant other — wife — and I moved into a house. Everything was hunky-dory. The neighbor got out of prison, came home, he lives next door. He took an immediate dislike to us. Began an endless onslaught of verbal harassment — "Dykes, sick love, queers" — verbal threats to myself, to my significant other, and to my dog and cat. At the same time, many small instances of vandalism began to occur on and around my property.

Several respondents described having their property vandalized after they made a public gesture that identified them as gay. One woman, for example, flew rainbow and American flags outside her house but one day

Somebody burned my rainbow flag and apparently stuck a sticker on my car that was parked in the driveway.... It said "homo" on it.... I didn't find it till later though. I get to drive around for a day before I went and got gas... I got to drive around with a little "homo" sticker on my car.

In other cases, respondents were threatened and harassed after they had been publicly identified with a local gay or lesbian event or organization. One man, for example, received threatening telephone calls after his name was published as a contact for the gay student organization on his campus.

Some incidents were potentially deadly. One man described having his house fire bombed and the windows smashed on two of the family cars.

I was asleep on the front porch and a Molotov cocktail was lobbed up onto the second story front porch where I was at.... And it immediately ignited the porch. I was asleep in that porch. As the building was burning I could hear the windows being broken out of the cars. And the people doing it laughing and screaming "faggot" at the top of their lungs.... There was a note attached to the windshield of my car: "The faggot that lives here will be dead within a week."


In Schools

Middle and secondary schools routinely are sites of harassment for students who are gay or deviate from gender norms. One interviewee related how he had been the target of ongoing antigay harassment in his high school. Late one night, he went to a convenience store to buy milk for the family's breakfast. He saw two classmates in the store's parking lot.

And as I got out of the car, they came up to the car, and approached me and said the usual "Hey, faggot" and started asking me what I was doing out... how would I like to be beat up. And they cornered me against the car and started beating on me.

He escaped into the store. When he asked the clerk to phone the police, the clerk refused.

I had a black eye, bloody nose, split lip, and some other bruises on my body. My parents called the police. They didn't even want to take a report. Their comment was "They're just a couple of good all-American boys out for some fun...." Both the guys who assaulted me often called me "faggot" and things like that in [my high school].

Such harassment occurs in college as well. One respondent and his lover experienced ongoing harassment on campus.

Just on a daily basis we were taunted, called "fags" to the point where ... we didn't even want to go to the cafeteria, we'd just go out to eat. Then nightly we pretty much, we never knew what we were going to wake up to or be awakened by in the night, like someone urinating on the door or sticking stuff, something on the door.... When people write "fag" on your door and that was one of the main things.... Put a gay sticker on the door with one guy bent over and another behind him with a big line through it.... It was so awful.

The story also illustrates the stresses that such harassment places on the victims. In this case, that stress had a negative impact on the victims' relationship. According to the interviewee:

[The harassment] made...the two of us...fight all of the time because our stress level was so high. I actually quit school twice, but ended up going back, 'cause of all this.... It was to the point where you'd be in your dorm room and you felt like a prisoner because you didn't even want to go out, because it just seemed everyone was your enemy and no one would help.


Victimization In
The Workplace

Most descriptions of crime on the job came from women respondents working in historically male settings. For example, one woman described how she was harassed and her car was vandalized with anti-lesbian graffiti while she was training to become a police officer. Another woman related her experiences in the Army after her sergeant read some love letters written to her by another woman.

The sergeant...called me into his office, and told me to explain the letters. When I refused to explain the letters, he grabbed me by the collar and threw me up against the wall and told me he wasn't going to have any dykes in his company. He took me outside and said get in the jeep. Took me to the top of [a mountain]. Got out, pushed me against the side of the jeep and said he was going to show me what a real man could do. Said he was sick of all these lesbians. He said what I needed was a real man to bring me out of this gay shit. I refused to cooperate, to make a long story short, and I threatened to kill him or us both. I don't know, I guess that scared him, cause I was looking real mean about that time and a little scared. He said just forget it, he got in his jeep and drove off. And I walked back down the mountain, which was about 40 miles.


Victimization By
Friends and
Family Members

Family members, friends, and acquaintances also were perpetrators of harassment and violence. Several women described incidents in which a male acquaintance or friend sexually assaulted them, sometimes after a failed attempt to seduce them. Many reported that their attacker seemed to be trying to prove that the woman was actually bisexual or simply needed the right man in order to become heterosexual.

One woman, for example, described what happened when, during dinner with a male former school friend, she refused his sexual invitation.

I tried to talk to him and explain that I didn't want any man at all. He figured I was bi. I kept trying to leave because I had things to do and errands to run, and he wouldn't let me out. I became very frightened and I broke a window to get out. I got out the window, he chased me down and grabbed me, threw me up on a vehicle and, as I was sliding down, he grabbed me again and threw me down so that my head hit the speed bump. Then proceeded to beat me.

In other cases, a former husband or male partner attacked a woman, seeking revenge for his perceived rejection by the victim.

Parents and siblings also were perpetrators. One man recounted being accosted by his father and brother after they overheard him talking to his mother about his weekend:

They got up, both very angry — you could see it in their face with the blood vessels sticking out of their necks and on their foreheads. And it was what they said and their body language, it was pretty scary: "Queer, faggot, you're going to get what you deserve, you're going to get that AIDS...." They came in here, there was some grabbing of my clothing.... I was able to defuse it, and let them know I was going to stand my ground. I was going to defend myself.

A woman described what happened after her mother read her diary, which included details about her sexual involvement with another woman.

She went out and got drunk and then came home and started yelling and screaming at me about sleeping with women. Actually, it was girls at the time.... She was pissed off at me because I was gay or I chose to sleep with women.... She said stuff like "bumping pussies" and just stuff like that.... And how sick it was, unnatural.... And then she just started getting really crazy and hitting me and knocking me around. And actually I was pretty scared....


Summary   Mass media depictions of antigay crimes often focus on street attacks that are perpetrated by groups of young men who have no prior acquaintance with the victim. Among the interviewees in our study, bias crimes were indeed most likely to occur in those circumstances. But many other scenarios were also described. In addition to strangers, the perpetrators included parents, siblings, former spouses, peers, supervisors, coworkers, and neighbors. Many incidents occurred in gay-identified venues and other public settings, but others took place in and around the victim's home or in campus or workplace settings. Clearly, antigay crimes occur in many settings and are perpetrated by individuals with a variety of relationships to the victim.



We thank Robyn Caruso and David Webb for their special assistance with coding and analyzing the interview narratives. For their invaluable contributions to the project, we also sincerely thank the following individuals:

  • Jennifer Lyle
  • Camille Barber
  • Rebecca Blanton
  • Aaron Carruthers
  • Mary Ellen Chaney
  • Yancey Cuyugan
  • Gricelda Espinoza
  • Fred Fead
  • Gregory Gadwood
  • Adela Gayton
  • Eric Glunt
  • Gisi Gonzales
  • Rebecca Hill
  • Kim Lasdon
  • Gerardo Medina
  • Kyle Pham
  • Clarmundo Sullivan
  • Paula Urtecho
  • David Welton



Complete results from the interviews are published in the Journal of Social Issues (2002, volume 58, #2, pp. 319-339). A preprint of that paper can be downloaded in Adobe Acrobat format. (Requires Adobe Acrobat reader, version 5, which can be downloaded free of charge).

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