From Hate Crimes to Activism: Race, Sexuality, and Gender in the Texas Anti-Violence Movement



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This study combines the methodologies of political and grassroots social history to explain the unique set of conditions that led to the passage of the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act in Texas. In 2001, the socially conservative Texas Legislature passed and equally conservative Republican Governor Rick Perry signed the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, which added race, color, religion, national origin, and “sexual preference” as protected categories under state hate crime law. While it appeared that this law was in direct response to the nationally and internationally high-profile hate killing of James Byrd, Jr. in Jasper, this does not explain the controversial inclusion of sexual orientation in the final bill. This study argues that the seemingly unlikely passage of the gay-inclusive James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act occurred because of sustained and sometimes overlapping gay and African American activism, spearheaded by the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas (LGRL) and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), respectively. Mainstream and “underground” (gay and African American) media outlets also helped mobilize grassroots activism and increased outside pressure for hate crime legislation through sympathetic coverage of the hate crime “epidemic” unfolding in the state and nationally. These grassroots and media efforts had a legislative impact; a coalition of gay, African American, and Mexican American hate crime law proponents in the legislature held firm in support of a comprehensive, gay-inclusive bill. By highlighting this (at times) intersectional activism, this study draws conclusions about coalition building in social movements that have implications for more contemporary civil rights activism.



Hate crime, Hate crime legislation, Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), African Americans, Texas, Civil rights