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Nesa E. Wasarhaley

Legal Perceptions of Gender Identity
and Sexual Orientation-Based Hate Crime

Nesa E. Wasarhaley, Bridgewater State University

Hate crimes are bias-motivated crimes perpetrated against people due to their perceived or actual social group membership. Most U.S. states have hate crime laws, but only 34 states include sexual orientation as a bias motivation category and only 15 include gender identity. According to the FBI’s 2020 Uniform Crime Report, sexual orientation bias represented 20% of all reported single-bias hate crimes, becoming the second-most targeted category next to race. While a small percentage (nearly 3%) targeted victims based on their gender identity, this represents a 34% increase from the previous year.

Understanding how people perceive hate crimes targeting LGBTQ individuals has implications for victim experiences and legal outcomes. Limited prior research has shown little to no difference in mock legal decision-making with gay or transgender hate crime victims relative to each other or other identity categories (e.g., Cabeldue et al., 2018; Cramer et al., 2013). But there is a lack of research on perceptions of bisexual and gender non-binary victims of hate crime (see Plumm et al., 2015 for bisexual victims). Generally, people who do not fit into a binary can be viewed especially negatively (e.g., Burke & LaFrance, 2016), so these identities warrant examination in the context of hate crime victimization.

With my undergraduate research assistants, I conducted a preliminary online mock juror experiment to investigate legal perceptions of LGBTQ victims of bias-motivated assault, which I presented at the 2022 SPSSI conference. Mechanical Turk workers (N = 163) read a fictional trial summary for an assault and battery case. We employed a 2 (victim’s salient social identity category: gender identity, sexual orientation) by 3 (social group status: privileged, “border”1, oppressed) between-subjects design. Participants were randomly assigned to one of the six resulting victim conditions: cisgender, heterosexual, non-binary, bisexual, transgender, homosexual. The victim was always depicted as male except in the non-binary condition. After exposure to the case, participants received juror instructions and individually rendered a verdict. Then they read a description of the Massachusetts hate crime law (assault or battery for purpose of intimidation) and provided another verdict based on that statute. Finally, participants rated various aspects of the case, including victim blame.

We predicted that the nonbinary and bisexual victims would evoke the least favorable judgments and perceptions, including more victim blame. Support for our hypotheses was mixed. Participants expressed some negativity toward the bisexual victim (e.g., significantly more blame vs. the transgender victim) but verdict decisions did not differ across conditions. For the non-binary victim, participants conveyed favorable perceptions (e.g., less blame vs. the cisgender, heterosexual, and bisexual victims). However, they showed uncertainty about legal decisions regarding the non-binary victim, indicating significantly less confidence in their primary and hate crime verdicts compared to nearly all other victim conditions.

Overall, our results highlight the nuanced perceptions of various LGBTQ identities and suggest that research on perceptions of hate crimes should include victims whose identities do not adhere to a dichotomy. Hopefully, the present work inspires future exploration of potential mechanisms driving these perceptions (e.g., biphobia, need for closure).


1. Category term comes from the Matrix of Oppression.


Burke, S. E. & LaFrance, M. (2016). Lay conceptions of sexual minority groups. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45, 635-650.

Cabeldue, M. K., Cramer, R. J., Kehn, A., Crosby, J. W., & Anastasi, J. S. (2018). Measuring attitudes about hate: Development of the Hate Crime Beliefs Scale. Journal of Interpersonal Violence33(23), 3656-3685.

Cramer, R. J., Kehn, A., Pennington, C. R., Wechsler, H. J., Clark, J. W., III, & Nagle, J. (2013). An examination of sexual orientation- and transgender-based hate crimes in the post-Matthew Shepard era. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law19(3), 355-368.

Plumm, K. M., Potter, S., & Terrance, C. A. (2015). Perceptions of bias-motivated assault against bisexual individuals. Journal of Bisexuality15(2), 248-267.