While the overall number of reported hate crimes in Orange County has dropped since last year, hate crimes committed against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents has been rising, according to the Orange County Human Relations Commission's annual report released Thursday.
There were a total of 61 hate crimes reported for 2012, the report states. Of those, African-Americans and LGBT residents were the most targeted, with each population having reported 13 hate crimes.
While African-Americans continue to be the most frequently targeted, the number of reported hate crimes against them has dropped more than 43 percent since last year, according to the report.
And there are similar declines among other groups. For example, reported hate crimes against Muslims and Arabs have been on a three-year downward trend, from 10 such crimes in 2009 to five in 2012.
The only group other than LGBT residents to show a consistent uptick are Jews, with one more reported hate crime in 2012 than in the previous year.
The trend of rising hate crimes against LGBT residents is particularly troubling because unlike other groups, more than 50 percent of the reported attacks were violent assaults, according to commission Executive Director Rusty Kennedy.
Also, the commission corrected the number of hate crimes reported for 2011, updating the number from 64 to 78. The error in reporting occurred when a couple of cities at first reported no hate crimes to the commission but later provided the numbers, Kennedy said.
Hate crimes are difficult to track, as many likely go unreported or, in many cases, misreported.
As Voice of OC reported earlier this month, a spate of crimes against an African-American family in Yorba Linda drove the family to leave town. Yet the attacks, which included the firing of acid pellets at the family's home, were not recorded by police as hate crimes.
According to Kennedy, that happened because the incidents at first presented no clear indicators that typify other hate crimes, such as swastikas painted on Jewish temples. The family's parents — both police officers — also didn't realize the motivation behind the attacks, Kennedy said.
The picture of hate started to become clear after their children were called racial epithets in the street and socially isolated at school, Kennedy said.
Police should have noticed that the only family in the neighborhood to be repeatedly targeted was African-American, said Kennedy. Under a contract with the city, the Orange County Sheriff's Department now patrols Yorba Linda. Sheriff Sandra Hutchens has sent a memo to her staff urging them to be watchful of such patterns in the future, according to Kennedy.
At a news conference on the report, a panel of speakers discussed the difficulty in tracking hate crimes and combating hate.
The most challenging part of the discussion came when speakers talked about religion and homosexuality. One gay audience member asked how Christians can be taught that homosexuality is an abomination and then asked to tolerate LGBT residents.
The question provided a window into the difficult reality confronting a nation with millions of conservative Christians and with a gay rights movement that is reaching its crest. Is it espousing hate when religious leaders teach that homosexuality is a sin and that legalizing gay marriage is an affront to God? Or is it equally intolerant to expect religious institutions to betray thousands of years of tradition and scripture?
The Rev. Everett Bell of Christ Our Redeemer AME Church in Irvine told the conference that his belief is that “all have sinned” and that people should be striving to improve themselves before they judge others.
“Churches have a tendency to point out homosexuality as this big issue, and they sweep under the rug all these other things that go on in the church,” Bell said. “It doesn't give me the right to judge and characterize someone else. But a lot of pastors do. And that's unfortunate.”
For Kevin O'Grady, executive director of The Center Orange County, which advocates for the LGBT community, the answer is simple: Nobody should be teaching hate.
“When somebody stands up in front of a congregation and condemns an entire group of people,” O'Grady said. “That is homophobic.”