Stopping Hate Crimes against the LGBTQ Community
On the surface, attitudes toward gender and sexual minorities (GSM), people who identify as gay, lesbian, transgender, gender nonconforming, etc., appear healthy. Inclusion has been on the rise in areas of education, employment, and legislation.
There has also been an increase in positive representation within the mainstream media. In addition, there continues to be more avenues for support from national organizations, gay-straight alliances, and social service outreach.
This increase in visibility and public acceptance of GSM identities, however, has come at a cost. As the 2017 Masterpiece Cakeshop scandal reveals, you cannot always have your cake and eat it too.
Visibility does not equal acceptance.
Over the past few years, increased visibility of GSM identities has added fuel to a fire that has been steadily burning. A 2018 report revealed that while visibility has increased over the past 4 years, the overall comfort level in exposure to GSM identities has decreased. So while on the surface society seems accepting of gay, lesbian, and transgender identities, there is an undercurrent of intolerance. This change accompanies an increase in harmful rhetoric in the media as well as a tangible surge in discrimination and hate crimes.
The numbers speak for themselves.
The 2016 shooting at Pulse nightclub was a tragic symptom of this insidious climate. Even despite the tragedy in Orlando, USA Today dubbed 2016 the deadliest year for GSM identities, reporting a 17% increase in hate killings from the year before.
In 2017, over 129 bills threatened gender and sexual minorities, and the temperature is continually rising. In 2017, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) reported that more than 50 GSM identified people were victims of hate crimes, a 400% increase from the year before.
In the UK, the Independent reported an 80% increase in hate incidents. Despite the figures, the growing perception is that things in the US and around the world are better. So where is the disconnect coming from?
The senseless deaths of two gender and sexual minorities in the early nineties paved the way for current anti-hate protections and advocacy.
Matthew Shepard was a young student living in Laramie, Wyoming, beaten to death in 1998 for being gay. Brandon Teena was a twenty-one year old transgender man brutally murdered near Falls City, Nebraska in 1993. Both hate crimes made the national news, and their stories portrayed in film with the Laramie Project and Boys Don’t Cry respectively.
Recently, there has been a disproportionate rate of under-reporting of GSM discrimination and hate crimes in the media.
A 2017 study estimated that reports of anti-GSM hate incidents occurred only 22 times on seven different channels. The total airtime was less than 40 minutes, the same amount of time the average user spends on YouTube.
What causes hate crimes?
Hate comes from many different sources, but mostly from fear of what people do not understand. Instead of sitting in fear, or learning from it, people harness it to do harm to others. The intent is not always to inflict bodily harm; words also have the power to do harm.
Hate crimes are often a result of hate speech.
The language we use to talk about GSM identities matter, as words can incite hate. Words have the power to call the fear inside of us. Our political climate, the stories we tell, and the stories we hear, all contribute to an environment that is accepting of difference or it is not.
Hate speech is language that is intentionally discriminatory toward others based on perceived differences. When our words instill fear, prejudice, and hate in others they can invite hateful actions.
What is the impact of hate crimes on the LGBTQI community?
Hate crimes impact mental and physical health
The American Psychological Association found that people who are victims of hate crimes experience more distress than other crimes not related to sex, gender, race or ethnicity. In addition, the risk of suicide is greater for those physically attacked.
The increase in hate based violence and discrimination creates an unsafe environment for gender and sexual minorities to be out and public. Many people may choose to only be out in private and do their best to pass as heterosexual in public spaces. While safety is important, this adds to the stigma that GSM identities are something to hide from mainstream society.
One study revealed that 4 out of 5 people who were victims of hate crimes due to their GSM identities did not report it to the police. Too often, those who identify as LGBT do not seek the help they need because they have been discriminated against. It is difficult to address the issues of inequalities in healthcare, the law and other institutions when the weight of silence is so deafening.
What can we do?
Break the silence
Atrocities happen every day to gender and sexual minorities, our brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters. Insisting that things are different now or better than they were rips experiences from those who are living it.
Silence creates an atmosphere of permissibility. Victims of hate crimes need to step out of the shadows and break the silence; much like the MeToo movement has brought sexual harassment and assault to the forefront. Come forward, report discrimination and abuse whenever it is safe to do so.
Refrain from victim blaming
Too often, people blame the victim for crimes someone else committed. The truth is it does not matter if he was in a bar; it does not matter if she was drinking; it does not matter if they walked home alone; none of it matters.
What does matter is that someone inflicted harm because of his or her perceived difference. What matters is that someone thought it was okay to beat someone, to rape someone, to take a life. Too often, we blame the victim.
The blame remains for those who inflict harm and no other. Everyone deserves dignity and respect, and we need to hold each other to these standards.
After her son was murdered, Judy Shepard advocated passing hate crime legislation that would help protect other innocent people from becoming victims of hate. The adoption of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act became the first federal law to protect the lives of gender and sexual minorities.
It is vitally important that we all take action in order to prevent other hate crimes from occurring. This may come in the form of voting, and supporting new legislation to protect the rights of gender and sexual minorities. It may come in the form of peer education, and advocacy work. It may be the creation of foundations, and organizations.
It is important to remain proactive and not settle into the mainstream complacency as this does not address the issue in any shape or form.
Taking action does not look like one particular thing, but an array of positive energies spread out among hundreds of thousands of people.