With the passage of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act last year — which expanded existing hate crime law to include crimes motivated by the victim’s gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability — I wondered if I needed to continue with the LGBT Hate Crimes Project. I it as a Wikipedia project in July 2007, when I noticed — while doing research for a round-up post on hate crimes — that number of anti-LGBT hate crimes I knew of were not included on Wikipedia.
I soon found out why so many were not entered on Wikipedia.
I started researching the cases for which I wanted to write entries. It meant sharpening my web-research skills, pouring over the websites of local newspapers and television stations which had reported these hate crime — most of which never received significant national coverage — and finding ways to access articles that were locked behind archives that could only be accessed for a fee. Fortunately, my library card and the Montgomery County Public Libraries website gave me legitimate (and legal) access a wealth of articles I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. In fact, it enabled me to pursue a project I wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise, and to spend my time doing research rather than raising revenue.
Initially, the project on Wikipedia was surprisingly successful. Two of the entries — on the murders of Nizah Morris and Nireah Johnson — were featured on the front page of Wikipedia, in the “Did You Know?” column. Other entries, such as the one about Michael Sandy were well received. But then other entries were removed, soon after posting, because they ran afoul of Wikipedia’s notability guidelines.
I decided to leave Wikipedia and started a freestanding website to continue my research.
After some consideration, and discussions, I’ve come to the decision that I will add no further articles on LGBT hate crime victims to Wikipedia. When I started the Hate Crimes on Wikipedia project, it was because I’d noticed that there were several anti-LGBT hate crimes I knew, and had written about, of that were not documented on Wikipedia for some reason. I thought that by adding them to Wikipedia, I could bring more exposure to a broader spectrum LGBT people who have been the targets of hate crimes.
I have learned, however, that the notability guidelines on Wikipedia, and some of the community members who enforce them, make it almost impossible add hate crimes that happened long ago and/or did not received widespread coverage. And that means that it is difficult to bring exposure to more diverse LGBT hate crime victims on Wikipedia if their stories are not recent, and have not received widespread coverage, or otherwise launched major protests or new legislation. As subjective as those guidelines sound, they are reasons I was given as objections to some of the articles I posted.
So, rather than fight that battle, I’ve decided to launch a new site: the LGBT Hate Crimes Project. I wanted to keep it simple, so that the focus will be on the stories. It’s a wiki that I spent much of yesterday and today setting up, and it’s where the new stories I will research and write up will be housed. I’m also in the process of copying the articles I wrote for Wikipedia onto this new site. I’m also in the process of rounding up support, as it looks like it will be an ongoing project.
The support never materialized. Not monetary support, at least. (At the time I started the project, I was between full-time jobs and consulting, and thought perhaps I could find a way to make my work on the project part of my actual work.) But, honestly, this is a project I gladly do voluntarily and fuel with my own passion for the subject. Support came through in other ways. People sent me emails about hate crimes in their communities, which were often committed their friends and loved ones. Community activists sent me whole lists and spreadsheets of hate crimes they’d compiled, which I still use as research sources. Almost every story I research leads me to another I hadn’t heard of before.
And, unfortunately, there seems to be no shortage of resource material in the headlines.
When the Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed last year, as mused aloud to an acquaintance that maybe the project I’d started had served its purpose or lived past its usefulness. He said to me, “Well, these crimes still happen. And, even when it’s passed, a bill may have to be defended.”
Given that the reporting of hate crimes didn’t stop last October, there is still a need to record anti-LGBT hate crimes. That’s especially true for those crimes that don’t get national coverage, spark legislation, or catalyze whole movements. That’s why I started this project in the first place. Because for every Matthew Shepard there are a hundred Daniel Fettys and Arthur Warrens whose stories receive far less coverage before vanishing into archives that require an entry fee. For every Brandon Teena, there are a hundred Duanna Johnsons and Ukea Davises or Stephanie Thomases whose stories don’t end up as material for major motion pictures, so much soon-forgotten stories on local news. Their stories shouldn’t disappear. So, I’ve continued my own effort to — however imperfectly — preserve their stories and share them in a place where the information is publicly available.
Given what’s likely to happen in this election, it’s likely that the Hate Crimes Act will be challenged and will need to be defended. If researching, recording and sharing as many of these stories as I can helps with that, then I’ll continue doing so for as long as I can — or until there’s no longer a need for it. Whichever comes first.