As Wisconsin celebrates Pride Month, community still battles hate as anti-LGBTQ+ crimes persist

MADISON, Wis. — People in the LGBTQ+ community still battle hate in Wisconsin and nationwide, even as awareness increases. Last year, the number of transgender people murdered in the U.S. and nationwide reached a grim, all-time high.

News 3 Now’s State of Hate investigation, a five-part series covering hate in Wisconsin based on police reports and charging data, uncovered some of the discrimination that the LGBTQ+ community still faces today. Crimes are more likely to be physical and violent than in past years; in 2017 and 2018, most of the reported crimes dealt with thefts of Pride flags. In the last two years, official reports chronicle more beatings, threats, and intimidation.

Just in 2020, individuals were threatened online, beat up in bars, and their cars vandalized in their homes. At least twice in Madison, police investigated attacks at gay-friendly bars like Shamrock Bar and the Paradise Lounge where bartenders and patrons were physically attacked while using homophobic slurs.

Two roommates in Winnebago County had their cars keyed in their apartment building’s garage with anti-gay slurs; victims told police they felt targeted because of their lifestyle. It happened in the spring–then again in the fall.

A transgender professor in Eau Claire was told online that they should commit suicide–along with a threat to “help speed up the process.” Police were never able to track down a suspect.

“Being bigoted against any group, for their race, their sexual orientation, their religion, is very demeaning and harmful to our communities,” executive director Steve Starkey of the OutReach LGBT Community Center said. “I think the goal is to intimidate or create fear in those communities, and also target individual people with violence. It’s unacceptable, it’s illegal, and we need to as a society we need to stop that trend of increase every year.”

Underreporting still plagues official statistics

Last year, police recorded at least eleven hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community in Wisconsin, but that number likely falls far short of reality due both to underreporting to police as well as technicalities that severely underrepresent the number of crimes police investigate as hate.

A News 3 Investigation found many crimes charged with the hate penalty by prosecutors aren’t recorded or officially reported as hate by law enforcement, leading to skewed numbers from the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In Wisconsin, crimes motivated by hate are prosecuted with a penalty enhancer, meaning it’s a sentence extender that’s added to an existing crime.

In 2019, a beating of a Black gay man in Racine was successfully prosecuted as an aggravated battery hate crime. But Racine police, who investigated the incident, haven’t reported a hate crime to the Department of Justice in at least five years–leaving the crime left out of the state’s official hate crime statistics, a pattern that happens over and over around the state due to variances in definitions, reporting requirements, and other issues.

Pride Month a way to refocus

Generating awareness and celebrating the achievements of the LGBTQ+ community is part of ending discrimination, Starkey said.

“Pride Month helps the LGBT community to feel consolidated, to feel like we are one, that we stand together, that we’re proud of who we are, that we support each other,” he noted. “We are a community that is important and is a part of society and should be supported like any other group of people.”

Contact News 3 Investigates

The News 3’s Investigative team can be reached at news3investigates@wisctv.com; feel free to contact us with your stories. The State of Hate is an ongoing investigative project that we’ll be contributing to throughout 2021.