updated 6/16/2009 3:34:40 PM ET 2009-06-16T19:34:40

The number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people killed in bias-motivated incidents increased by 28 percent in 2008 compared to a year ago, according to a national coalition of advocacy groups.

Last year's 29 killings was the highest recorded by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs since 1999, when it documented the same number of slayings, according to a report released Tuesday by the coalition.

"What we're also seeing, more disturbingly, is the increase in the severity of violence," said Sharon Stapel, executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, which coordinates coalition.

Stapel theorized that at least some of last year's violence was backlash against issues that arose during the during the presidential campaign. She cited debates about same-sex marriage, the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, and federal legislation that would ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity as possible flash points.

"The more visibility there is the more likely we're going to see backlash, and that's exactly what we see here," Stapel said.

Overall, the number of victims who reported anti-LGBT violence in 2008 increased by 2 percent compared to 2007, said the New York-based coalition of programs in 25 states.

Figures said to be more accurate
Coalition officials say their figures are more accurate than those from law enforcement agencies. As an example, they say, the FBI doesn't record bias crimes against transgender people because gender identity isn't covered by federal hate-crime law.

Also, victims sometimes are reluctant to report bias incidents to police because they don't want to reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity and/or they fear bias from police, officials said.

Reports of physical abuse by police increased to 25 incidents last year from 10 in 2007, the report said.

For the new report, programs in Milwaukee, Minnesota, Chicago, Los Angeles, Colorado, Columbus, Ohio, Houston, Pennsylvania, New York City, Kansas City, Missouri, Michigan and San Francisco submitted data.

Programs in Vermont and the Boston area participated in the 2007 report but not the current one. The program in Rochester, N.Y., participated in 2008 for the first time.

The largest increase — 64 percent — was in Milwaukee, where the number of reported incidents rose to 18 in 2008 from 11 in 2007, the report said.

Officials weren't sure whether reported increases were attributable to more people reporting incidents or an actual rise.

'It's a vulnerable population'
Meighan Bentz, a victim outreach advocate at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, which includes an anti-violence project, said, "I think it's a combination."

"Certainly there are more people reporting," Bentz said, adding that the project started in 2005. "As time goes on there are more people aware of our program as a resource."

Bentz added, "I do believe there are ongoing issues of violence and its affect upon LGBT individuals. It's a vulnerable population."

Many of 2008's incidents made headlines.

In December, a man was beaten to death in New York City while he walked arm in arm with his brother as their attackers yelled anti-gay and anti-Latino epithets. Two men have been charged with murder as a hate crime.

In February 2008, 15-year-old Lawrence King was shot to death at school in Oxnard, Calif., near Malibu after enduring harassment after he told classmates he was gay; a classmate is charged as an adult in the killing, which prosecutors classified as a hate crime.

Last June, a surveillance tape was publicized showing Memphis, Tenn., police officers beating Duanna Johnson, a transgender woman, and shouting slurs in a jail booking area; a public outcry erupted.

In November, Johnson was found fatally shot on a Memphis street.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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