KALISPELL — The Montana Board of Crime Control has detailed an increase in hate crimes across the state over the last year.
A total of 153 hate crimes were reported to law enforcement in the last four years with 50% being logged from 2019 to 2020. The most targeted groups for hate crimes in Montana were African Americans, Native Americans, and the LGBTQ+ communities.
Federal law says hate is not a crime, but committing a crime due to someone's gender, race, and sexual orientation is a hate crime. Montana Human Rights Network Director of Equality and Economic Justice Shawn Reagor says reporting of hate crimes in Montana is hard to track for trends, and the definition of hate crime is often vague.
“We are working with anecdotal evidence now another thing that's difficult too, is that there's not a clear definition of what constitutes a hate crime,” said Reagor.
Montana Board of Crime Control statistics show Black, Indigenous and people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community were victims of the 153 reported hate crimes. Hate crimes against African Americans over the past four years totaled 36 while 13 incidents targetted Native Americans. Additionally, the number shows more than 17% of hate crimes reported in the last four years were LGBTQ+ related.
Four incidents of anti-transgender and anti-gay hate crimes were reported in Kalispell and Whitefish while four anti-lesbian crimes were reported in Missoula.
Reagor, a transgender man, says that he himself has been a target.
“I myself have experienced a number of things such as my vehicle was egged and l was receiving death threats, and that has increased in the past couple of years," Reagor said. "For those who are at more risk and who don't have the ability to stand up and share their stories because of their job or their housing or their family."
But, with his position, Reagor told MTN News he prefers to be proud of who he is.
“I have always had the opportunity to be more discreet with my identity, and I frequently have found that I prefer to stand out and be able to stand up for the community, for those who are at more risk and who don't have the ability to stand up and share their stories because of their job or their housing or their family,” said Reagor.
But while many can be fearful of the possibility of being attacked for who you are, Reagor has seen a growing trend of people wanting to learn how to reverse their thinking. "We have seen also on the flip side the amount of support and knowledge for the LGBTQ community."
This is why Reagor says education is key to teaching people to look past their biases.
“I think that when people actually start to build relationships with LGBTQ folks, it really starts to have an effect on their understanding because they start to understand that the rhetoric that they've heard about who we are is simply inaccurate,” said Reagor.
And to remember that you are loved. “It's really important that folks know that. they belong in the state and that there valuable,” said Reagor.
The Montana Human Rights Network has resources for those who have been victims of a hate crime here.