Skip to main content

Hate Crime and the Privatization of Political Responsibility: Protecting Queer Citizens in the United States?


My purpose in this article is to address issues that arise with the emergence of “hate crime” law as a response to violence against historically subordinated groups, with particular reference to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered (henceforth “GLBT”), and otherwise queer citizens. The specific jurisdictional context of my reflection is the USA but the issues I raise have significance beyond that context. Increasingly in recent years hate crime legislation has been adopted or proposed in the US as well as other jurisdictions as a response to bigotry and violence directed against minority groups in multi-cultural societies. In 2006 in the UK, proposals to outlaw “incitement to religious hatred” were hotly debated. In 2008 demands are being made to extend the ‘incitement laws’ to include incitement to homophobic hatred. In 2007 in the US the Senate and House of Representatives in Washington DC passed an Act, which some described as the Matthew Shepard Act, to promote and enhance the use of the criminal law against perpetrators of crimes motivated by hatred based on perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. Ultimately the Act failed to become law. The debates in the UK and US provide the backdrop against which I want to examine the arguments for and against hate crime legislation, both generally and with specific application to queer citizens. This require us to think again about the relation of queer citizens to the state, the reach of political equality and human rights, and the aims and limits of the criminal law and system of “criminal justice”.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. As a result of anomalies in judicial interpretation, laws against racial hatred include white, blacks, Asians, Jews and Sikhs, but not Muslims as a class. The question of what classes are to be protected against bias crime is frequently a point of contention in differing legal and political contexts.

  2. Cf. Kaplan (1997).

  3. Jacobs and Potter (1998), p. 68.

  4. Jacobs and Potter, supra. p. 71.

  5. Jacobs and Potter, supra. pp. 29–44.

  6. Lawrence (1999).

  7. Lawrence, supra. p. 151.

  8. Lawrence, supra. p. 168.

  9. Lawrence, supra. p. 169.

  10. Kaplan, supra. pp. 13–46.

  11. Simon (2007), Garland (1996, 2001).

  12. Davis (2003).

  13. Butler (1997), pp. 43–69.

  14. Butler, supra. pp. 60–62.

  15. Cf. Fraser and Honneth (2003, pp. 7–109).

  16. Brown and Halley (2002, p. 434).

  17. Brown (1995).

  18. Moran and Skeggs (2004).


  • Brown, W. 1995. States of injury: Power and freedom in late modernity. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brown, W., and J. Halley. 2002. Left legalism/left critique. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Butler, J. 1997. Excitable speech a politics of the performative. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Davis, A.Y. 2003. Are prisons obsolete?. New York: Seven Stories Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fraser, N., and A. Honneth. 2003. Redistribution or recognition? A political-philosophic exchange. New York: Verso.

    Google Scholar 

  • Garland, D. 1996. The limits of the sovereign state: Strategies of crime control in contemporary society. British Journal of Criminology 36 (4): 445–471.

    Google Scholar 

  • Garland, D. 2001. The culture of control: Crime and social order in modern society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jacobs, J.B., and K. Potter. 1998. Hate crimes: Criminal law and identity politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kaplan, M.B. 1997. Sexual justice: Democratic citizenship and the politics of desire. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lawrence, F. 1999. Punishing hate: Bias crimes under American Law. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Moran, L.J., and B. Skeggs. 2004. Sexuality and the politics of violence and safety. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Simon, J. 2007. Governing through crime: How the war on crime transformed American democracy and created a culture of fear. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references


I am grateful to those who invited me and to those who participated in discussion on these occasions. Special thanks to Les Moran, Jamie Mayerfeld, Michelle Stewart, and Garrath Williams, who provided detailed responses to previous drafts.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Morris B. Kaplan.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Kaplan, M.B. Hate Crime and the Privatization of Political Responsibility: Protecting Queer Citizens in the United States?. Liverpool Law Rev 29, 37–50 (2008).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Queer citizenship
  • Hate crime
  • Homophobic violence
  • Policing
  • Discrimination