LGBTQ+ Rights and Hate Crimes
Anyone can be a victim of crime, including members of the LGBTQ+ community. LGBTQ+ crime victims have unique challenges and real concerns about reporting crimes. While LGBTQ+ victims of crime share the same identities and concerns as any other crime victim, they also face additional barriers. The fear of being outed, being discriminated against, or being re-traumatized by service providers, police and the court system are just some of the many reasons why individuals do not seek help.
If you are a LGBTQ+ victim of crime or discrimination, you can find information and resources about your rights and legal options in this section. You have the right to the same respect and the same help and services as any other victim of crime. Please know that there are people who can help you.
While there are many more specific rights and protections available, in this section you will find a general overview of anti-discrimination protections.
Rights Under New York State Law
In New York State, you have the right to be free from discrimination based on your sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. These are protected categories under our state's Human Rights Law. That means, it is illegal for someone to discriminate against you in areas such as housing, employment, credit, and education because of your sexual orientation (who you are sexually attracted to), gender identity (your sense of being male, female, both, or neither) or the way you express your gender (through your clothing, hair, voice, movement, etc.).
Examples of discrimination include:
- Asking you questions about your sexual orientation or your assigned sex at birth at a job or housing interview.
- Refusing to hire you for a job or rent you an apartment.
- Refusing to provide you victim services or giving you lesser services because of your gender or sexual orientation.
- Giving you different terms on a lease or credit.
- Being harassed at school or work because of your gender or sexual orientation.
- Refusing to let you use public places while others are allowed to.
If you have been discriminated against because of your sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, you have the right to file a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights or call their office at 1-888-392-3644. You may also be able to take legal action (file a lawsuit) against them.
For more information and resources, please see:
- The “Resources” section at the bottom of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act and Human Rights Law page on the NYS website.
- Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act information on the NYS website
- Resources on the NYS Division of Human Rights website
Rights Under United States Law
There are several federal laws that protect LGBTQ+ people. You have the right under federal law to be free from discrimination at work based on your sexual orientation or transgender status. You have the right under Title IX to equal access to education. Under the Affordable Care Act you have the right to be free from discrimination in health care.
If you are a LGBTQ+ worker and believe you have been fired or discriminated because of your sexual orientation or transgender status, your employer may have violated your civil rights. You can report this violation to the US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.
LGBTQ+ Hotlines and Resources
- LGBT National Hotline: 888-843-4564
- NYC Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project (AVP) 24-hour bilingual hotline: 212-714-1141
- Trevor Helpline (24-hours) for LGBTQ+ youth: 1-800-850-8078
- LGBT Health & Human Services Network
LGBTQ+ Victims of Intimate Partner Violence
Intimate partner violence (IPV) is when one person uses threats, violence, or abusive behavior against the other person in a relationship. The abuse can be physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, or economic, and the abusive person can be either a current or former partner. For more information about IPV, please go to the Domestic Violence and Family Violence section of this site.
Abuse and violence happen in LGBTQ+ communities and within LGBTQ+ relationships. The rates of violence in LGBTQ+ relationships are similar or even higher than the rates of violence in other relationships. LGBTQ+ communities have not been well-studied, but we do know that the barriers created by discrimination, and the lack of understanding and respect for LGBTQ+ individual reduce options and make it harder for them to seek help.
Things to know about LGBTQ+ IPV
While intimate partner violence is similar in both heterosexual relationships and relationships in the LGBTQ+ community, there are some differences.
Tactics of Abuse
Some of the tactics used by abusive partners can be unique to a LGBTQ+ relationship. Some examples include:
- Threats of outing, such as threats to expose the victim’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status.
- Controlling their partner’s expressions of gender identity and connection to the larger LGBTQ+ community.
- Using children to control or manipulate the victim. This may happen particularly in cases where the children are related to the abusive partner but do not have an established legal relationship with the other parent.
- Preventing their partner from spending time with friends, claiming that the friends are really sexual partners.
- Telling the victim they won’t be believed because of their LGBTQ+ identity.
- Making fun of their transgender partner’s body or appearance.
Challenges to getting help
It can also be more difficult for LGBTQ+ victims to receive the services they need. For example, service providers and first responders may:
- Wrongly assume that transgender people or same-gender intimate partners cannot be victims of IPV.
- Have their own biases and prejudices about members of the LGBTQ+ community. This can be especially hurtful and prevent victims from seeking help.
- Not know appropriate resources or what the victim’s legal rights may be.
LGBTQ+ victims have a right to be safe
NYS licensed domestic violence programs must serve all victims of intimate partner violence, not just women abused by men. For example, if a shelter has space, shelter staff cannot deny you housing or place you in an alternate location just because of your gender.
If you are refused shelter or help because you are LGBTQ+, you can:
- Contact Empire Justice Center for help or email Lettie Dickerson at LDickerson@empirejustice.org.
- File a complaint with the domestic violence program, the NYS Division of Human Rights, or the NY Office of Children and Family Services.
- In some cases, you may be able to file a complaint with the US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.
For more information about your rights, please see the American Bar Association Guide.
Name Change Information
In New York State, everyone has the right to change their name. There are many reasons why you may want to change your name. Some reasons include:
- To better match your gender identity or expression
- To share the same last name as your partner
- To stop an abusive partner or stalker from finding you
- To separate yourself from a particular time in your life
You can change your name through common usage (using the name you choose informally at school, work, etc.). But when you legally change your name, government agencies, hospitals, colleges, and other entities must accept your new name. You can legally change your name on your own or with the help of an attorney.
You can find detailed information about legally changing your name on the NY Courts website. Below you will find a brief overview of the process.
Please Note: The process is different for New York City and the rest of New York State.
Where can I go to legally change my name?
Contact your county clerk’s office to find out which court you can go to legally change your name.
What information do I need for court?
To change your name, you will need to:
- Bring Proof of Birth.
- Complete forms, including a Name Change Petition and a Name Change Order.
- Call the Court to see what other forms you need to complete and if there are other documents you need to bring.
Is there a fee?
Yes, there is a cost. This can include filing fees and costs related to getting documents. Please contact the Court to find out the filing fee. If you cannot afford the fee, you can ask the court for a Fee Waiver.
What do I do after the court approves my request to change my name?
If the court approves your name change:
- Have your name changed on your driver’s license, passport, and any other government identifications.
- Contact agencies and people to let them know your name has changed. This can include:
- Social Security Administration
- U.S. Postal Service
- Insurance Companies
- IRS and State Tax Authority
- Credit Card companies
- Voter Registration
- You may need to revise your will and other legal documents.
- You may need to contact your school and college to have your name on your diploma and degree changed.
I am changing my name because I am in danger. What can I do?
Name change applications are public records. That means they can be viewed by anyone.
If you are worried about your safety or the safety of your children, you can ask the court to have your name change application “sealed.” Sealed applications cannot be found in the public record.
Also, if you are in danger, you can ask the court to waive publication in the newspaper.
For more information about adult name change, please go to:
- The NY Courts website
- Empire Justice Center’s Guide (COMING SOON)
You can find information about child name changes on the NY Courts website.
Hate crimes are crimes that are motivated by prejudice or bias and are usually violent. People who commit hate crime do so to create fear and cause emotional and physical harm to the victim. In addition to dealing with physical injuries or harm to property, victims of hate crime may need counseling or other support because of this traumatic event.
If you are a victim of a hate crime, you may feel scared and worried that you will be the target of a hate crime again. You may feel depressed, anxious, or unsafe. You may lose trust in anyone who is similar to the person or group who attacked you. You may be angry about the part of yourself that was the target of the hate crime. Please know that there are crisis hotlines and resources that can help you.
What is a hate crime?
When someone commits a crime against a person because of that person’s real or perceived race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability, or sexual orientation, that crime is a hate crime.
“Real or perceived” means that the victim of the crime does not have to be the race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. that the person who commits the crime thinks they are.
To be a hate crime, the crime must be motivated by bias or prejudice. For example, the person who commits the crime may use certain words or phrases (like name calling or religious slurs) that show their bias motivation.
Under the law, not all crimes that are motivated by hate are considered hate crimes. You can find a list of hate crimes on the NYS website.
What is a bias incident?
A bias incident is a verbal, physical, or visual act that is offensive. Examples include:
- name calling
- religious slurs
- racist, sexist, ageist, or ableist comments
- offensive graffiti
- remarks on social media
- being shunned, ignored, or avoided
Like hate crimes, bias incidents are acts against another person because of that person’s real or perceived race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability, or sexual orientation. But a bias incident may not be a crime.
All hate crimes are bias incidents, but not all bias incidents are hate crimes.
What laws protect victims of hate crimes?
Race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability, and sexual orientation are all protected in New York State.
Victims of hate crimes are also protected under the federal law. Race, color, religion, and national origin are protected under federal law.
What can I do if I experience a bias incident or hate crime?
You have the right to report the incident or crime to the police. Call 9-1-1 if you need emergency help.
Here are other places you can report the crime:
- NYS Hate Crime Task Force or call 1-888-392-3644 or Text “Hate” to 81336
- Email the NY Attorney General’s Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-771-7755
- Contact a local FBI field office.
Be safe. Here is a safety plan that any victim of a hate crime can use.
Gather information about the crime or incident as soon as you can. This can include:
- Details about your attacker’s physical appearance and clothes.
- Photos, videos, and documents that show that the attacker had a belief or perception about your race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, etc.
- Physical injuries and property damage.
- Information that shows the attack was done on purpose.
- Witness or bystander contact information.
If you don’t want to call the police, you can report what happened to these organizations. They can also connect you to people who can help:
File a NYS Division of Human Rights complaint or call 1-888-392-3644 if you have experienced a bias incident in areas such as employment, education, credit, purchasing or renting a home or a public accommodation.
Can the police ask me about my immigration status when I report a hate crime?
Under NYS Law, the police cannot ask about immigration status when you call or go to the police for help or to report a crime. The police cannot detain you based on your immigration status unless they suspect you of a crime.
For more information about your rights as an immigrant, please go to the Know Your Rights - Immigrants' Rights section of the ACLU website.
For more information about hate crimes, please see:
Help With Other Needs
For immediate help and to report a crime, call 911.
Need help understanding legal terms? Please see the NY Court Help Glossary.
Need help paying for food, housing utilities, or child care? Do you need help with healthcare, disability, vocational or other services? Visit findservicesNY.gov or visit the NYS Social Programs website.
Visit the Hotlines page for national and New York State resources.