Murder and felony violence against gay and Latino Americans are on the rise — while the religious right trivializes the issue of violent hate crimes and airs false and unfounded allegations of violence at peaceful gay protests in defense of the freedom to marry.

According to the Associated Press (Dec. 16),

FBI statistics show there were 830 Hispanic victims of hate crimes last year, up from 819 the previous year and 595 in 2003.

According to another AP article (Dec. 15),

A rash of attacks against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people across the country – including the severe beating of a New York man whose attackers believed he was gay – suggests the number of reported assaults could rise in 2008, an advocacy group said.

The number of reported attacks against LGBT people increased 24 percent in 2007 over 2006, and they were expected to jump in 2008, said Sharon Stapel, executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project.

Officials were still crunching the 2008 figures, which will be released next spring, Stapel said.

An attack in Brooklyn last week united gay and Latino groups in demanding a federal response, as attackers killed Ecuadorian Jose Osvaldo Sucuzha?±ay, who was mistakenly thought by the killers to be gay.

Since early November, men have been reported murdered or critically wounded — apparently because of sexual orientation — in New York, Washington, Salt Lake City, and Syracuse. The number of murders and assaults against gay people that went unreported by law-enforcement agencies and watchdogs is, of course, unknown.

The Dec. 15 AP article glosses over murders that occurred earlier this year:

In the case of Lawrence King, one of his classmates was charged as an adult in the slaying, which prosecutors classified as a hate crime.

Other incidents include the discovery of Angie Zapata’ body in July in her apartment in Greeley, Colo. Zapata, 18, was a transgender woman. Police have charged a man with murder as a hate crime in her death.

In June, a surveillance tape was publicized showing Memphis, Tenn., police officers beating Duanna Johnson, a transgendered woman, and shouting slurs in a jail booking area; a public outcry erupted. Johnson was found fatally shot on a Memphis street in November.

Also in New York City, police arrested four teenagers on charges of assaulting a priest outside a shelter he ran for homeless transgender youths in July. Witnesses said the four teens had harassed and taunted residents with homophobic slurs and insults before the assault.

Famed evangelist Rick Warren has responded to the rising crime wave by opposing federal crackdowns against violent hate crimes and against local authorities’ refusal to investigate and prosecute. Warren has also falsely accused thousands of married gay couples across the country of threatening to turn antiviolence laws into unconstitutional antispeech laws. And Warren has equated gay couples with child molesters.

Focus on the Family‘s response has been just as vicious. In addition to falsely accusing 300 peaceful gay-marriage protests of widespread and systematic violence and vandalism, Focus declared this week:

Make no mistake: From “hate crimes” and “nondiscrimination” laws ‚Äî which enshrine homosexuality, bisexuality and “transgenderism” as protected classes ‚Äî to a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, it will soon be difficult for Bible-believing Christians to stand up for God’ created intent for sexuality, gender, marriage and the family.

And while persecution is coming, we can take heart in the scriptural truth that ultimately it’ not us they war against, but Christ himself; that God will continue to provide for His children; and that those who are persecuted in His name will be rewarded.

With that statement, Focus on the Family excuses antigay violence, equating any specific action against antigay violence with affirmation of sexual deviation and the imaginary “persecution” of Christians. Focus — whose “Love Won Out” ex-gay roadshow perverts the very notion of love — falsely declares gay victims of violence to be at war against “Christ himself,” thereby affirming further uncontrolled religious-rightist anger which is certain to fuel additional violence.