06/13/2012 06:30 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Identifying a Hate Crime

This past weekend, a lesbian couple in Arlington, Tex., was the target of a hate crime when their car was vandalized with the words "FAGGOT" and "QUEERS." Reading about the experience led me to recall a similar situation that happened to me about 10 years ago in the Connecticut suburb I grew up in.

Walking out the door to go to school my senior year of high school, I was shocked when I approached my car, having parked it on the street the night before. My windows were covered with "FAG" and "FAGGOT," written in soap, and toothpaste was smeared over every door handle. I was speechless. I had no idea who had done it or why. I had kissed girls before, but I didn't think anyone knew about it. To this day I'm not sure if it was a random act of vandalism or if someone had found out my secret and targeted me with this message specifically -- regardless of the fact that the terms were a bit misused.

I remember feeling hurt and confused -- why would someone do such a thing?

Many times, acts of this nature go unpunished, the perpetrators never found, leaving the victims shaken and, in some cases, traumatized, hurt or worse. To be sure, these are not unique situations. Acts of hate against members of the LGBT+ community are happening constantly, from the mild to the egregious.

On the lesser end of the scale are instances of verbal abuse, which can be extremely emotional and psychologically painful, especially if that prejudice comes from within the LGBT community itself. Yazmin Monét Watkins, proud bisexual spoken word poet and actress, shared one such experience of verbal bigotry while attending Pride in West Hollywood last weekend with her boyfriend.

"While I was at pride with my partner, some gay guy shouted out at us, 'Hey, straight couple, what are you doing here?'" Watkins explained. "It's not that serious and I'm confident in my bisexual identity, but it did sting a little. To receive backlash from the one community I felt I could go to for safety, it almost ruined Pride for me, honestly."

A similar situation occurred at a large Midwestern Pride Festival in 2010 to a friend who prefers to remain anonymous. She was walking around with two of her friends, a trans man and his girlfriend who identifies as cisgender and bi, she explained. "Some people at the Pride festival screamed things out at them, telling them that straight people were not welcome at 'their Pride,'" since they read as a straight couple, "and threw a glass beer bottle at them, which shattered and cut my friend. It is a touchy thing to describe as a hate crime, even though to me it clearly is -- it is an anti-bi, anti-trans action."

In many ways, when the discrimination against an LGBT+ person is perpetrated by another LGBT+ person, it is all the worse.

There are also countless instances of verbal and physical bullying in almost every school where youth are coming out of the closet or simply deemed "different" by their peers. Francis, a genderqueer bisexual, shared a story with me that happened to them in 7th grade:

"A group of neighborhood boys came up to me, and asked, 'Want to play smear the queer?' I asked what it was. They asked me to come on the trampoline with them. As a naïve 7th grader, I obliged. One of them handed me a football and said I was 'the queer.' They then laughed and pushed me off of the trampoline, yelling, 'Queer!' I fell onto my left arm. I don't remember the pain, just the loud crack. One of the boys came and picked me up by the broken arm. There was another crack. They told me not to tell anyone, so I lied and said I'd fallen off my scooter. I had broken my arm in two places."

Francis continued to be harassed at school for years, being called "gay" in a derogatory way for wearing clothes that did not fit the gender society assigned them at birth.

Then there are the cases where the hate crimes become much more physical and, ultimately, fatal. Think of Bill Clayton, a 17-year-old boy from Olympia, Wash., who was preyed upon and sexually assaulted by a man from a support group for LGBT+ youth at the age of 14, then beaten to unconsciousness three years later by homophobic students at his school, ultimately leading to his suicide.

The media has been reporting on anti-gay bullying, especially suicides related to such bullying, more and more over the last few years, including the stories of Jamey Rodemeyer, Jacob Rogers, Rafael Morelos, and, sadly, too many more to name.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the transgender community specifically in this post, since they are routinely sought out for physical discrimination as well. Just this past week, transgender woman Chrishaun "CeCe" McDonald was attacked with broken glass in Minneapolis after enduring racist and transphobic slurs; McDonald fought back in self-defense, stabbing one of two attackers in an effort to get them to stop. Making McDonald's plight even worse is the fact that the attacker she stabbed died of his wounds, leading to her arrest and a second-degree murder charge. One might argue that she is now being discriminated against by the system meant to protect her; if she had been born with female genitalia and this attack had occurred, regardless of the motive, would she still have been charged with such a crime?

McDonald's case brings up even more cases of hate crimes against the transgender community that routinely get looked over, despite many ending in death. Just look at the murders of transwomen Brandy Martell, Coko Williams and Paige Clay, all of which occurred within the month of April this year alone.

Unfortunately, most mainstream news channels and publications still fail to pick up these stories. Most people know about Matthew Shepard and Brandon Teena, but as of late, unless a celebrity is behind the story, most LGBT+-related hate crimes fall on few ears, if any.

Some argue that focusing on such hate crimes specific to the LGBT+ community can only be detrimental to that same community, specifically the youth still grappling with their identity and coming out of the closet. At the same time, though, not reporting on such instances of discrimination will only serve to perpetuate the problem -- if there are no consequences, what's to stop these deplorable and, at times, tragic acts from continuing?