In 2005, the FBI reported 1,017 hate crimes nationally based on victims' sexual orientation, 14.2 percent of all hate crimes reported in that year.
Hate crimes are classified by the Human Rights Campaign as unlawful acts motivated by bias against a person based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender or disability of the victims.
According to a 2001 Department of Justice report, hate crimes are under-reported, and only 20 percent of those reported result in arrest.
"Out of all hate crimes, one in seven are sexuality motivated," said Matthew Brunner, Bloomington Field Organizer for the Human Rights Campaign.
According to Brunner, hate crimes legislation is needed because the offenses are committed "solely based on someone's sexual orientation, race, religion, gender identity or disability."
Indiana is one of only five states that do not have hate crimes laws.
Brunner said many violent crimes are "isolated incidents" that, while devastating to the victims and their loved ones, are "not meant to instill fear in an entire community. ... It's meant to run them out of the community."
The 2005-2006 Bloomington Human Rights Commission Hate Incidents Report documents 32 hate incidents classified as "verbal or physical abuse" inspired by a recognized hate crime status.
Eleven were partially or fully based on the victims' sexuality or perceived sexuality.
The commission collects reports from police departments, individuals, groups, media and anonymous accounts.
Of the 11 sexuality-based hate incidents in Bloomington, six were slurs against homosexuals made via graffiti on personal or public property, two involved flag burning at a local store that flies a gay pride flag, one was a name-calling and two involved verbal abuse and beating on and damaging the victims' doors.
The Bloomington Hate Incidents Reports from 2002-2003 said six of 23 hate incidents were sexuality motivated.
The 2003-2004 report documented five of 19.
Eleven of 54 hate crimes in Indiana reported to the FBI in 2005 were based on sexuality. 2005 was the last reporting period for FBI statistics.
An undercurrent of intimidation is present throughout the reports. In one 2004 incident, two men who lived together reported finding condoms, trash, rotting food and dead animals left on their doorstep and at their car, along with derogatory anti-gay graffiti.
In another incident that same year, two men were attacked at a party after being called "gay" by other guests. Both men suffered chipped teeth and injured jaws.
Brunner said it is time for Indiana to act.
"We don't have any (legislation) at all, not even something that protects race and religion," he said.
House Bill 1459, which would have protected the commonly recognized hate crime statuses, including sexual orientation and gender identity, failed to pass the Indiana General Assembly this year after an amendment to include protection of a woman carrying a "viable fetus" was proposed by Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Lakeville).
The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HR 1592) would add sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability "to existing federal law conferring authority on the federal government to investigate and prosecute violent crimes." It is called the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act in remembrance of the young Wyoming man who was brutally beaten to death in 1998.
This kind of authority is already granted in hate crimes cases based on race, color, national origin and religion.
The law would mean, in practice, that if local law enforcement or prosecutors did not have the resources to properly investigate and try a hate crimes case, federal assistance would be provided.
In cases involving bias within the local legal system, prosecution of the case would be turned over to the federal government.
The bill passed the House of Representatives 237-180 in early May, with the White House issuing a statement the same day that said if the bill was presented to President Bush, he would veto it on the grounds that it is "unnecessary and constitutionally questionable."
Twenty-five House Republicans supported the Matthew Shepard Act. It will take 67 votes for the Senate to override the threatened veto.
"We already have hate crime legislation on the books for a long time that protects race and religion, and people have not been arrested because of their speech or thought about race or religion," Brunner said, noting that a specific provision in the current bill says it in no way infringes upon the freedom of thought or speech. People will still be able to have these thoughts and will still be able to vocalize these thoughts when they want to."
As far as the opposition stating that hate crimes legislation will make sentencing harsher, Brunner said the Matthew Shepard Act "does not provide for that. There's already a piece of legislation that's been passed that would increase the penalty if the judge sees fit."
A national, 1,000-person poll conducted by Gallup in May 2007 showed that 68 percent of Americans surveyed support expanding hate crime laws to include sexual orientation, gender and gender identity.
The poll also showed majority support for the legislation across the board, with respondents classified as conservative supporting the bill by 57 percent and Protestants and Catholics supporting with 65 percent and 72 percent, respectively.
According to Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese, the poll "continues to reiterate how incredibly out of touch right-wing organizations are with the will of the American people and underscores the need for the Senate to pass this bill."
Brunner said: "All communities should be free from hate. People should not be afraid walking down the streets because of who they are."
Josephine McRobbie can be reached at .