I woke up last Sunday with two items on my list for the day: plant the plum trees my wife gave me as an anniversary present and write a post about privilege and the Stanford rape sentencing. I opened my email as I was sipping my coffee and saw the headline: 50 Killed in Orlando Nightclub Shooting. Every further detail I learned deepened my despair, from the fact that the LGBT community was the target and a high proportion of people of color were in attendance at Pulse that night, to the revelation that the shooter was Muslim, which I feared would further fuel hateful rhetoric.
I felt a grief I couldn’t have anticipated welling inside of me. I set my phone down, headed outside and spent the next four hours planting those trees and tending to my garden. I never did write the post I intended to. I didn’t want to venture into my head that day, even if to write about something else.
That’s the pitfall of a blog intentionally designed to examine a topic after the immediate news cycle has passed–invariably, something else has taken its place. Sometimes, that something else feels so all-consuming that it’s hard to make space in your head or your heart for anything else. So, on to Orlando.
. . .
The horrific violence of last weekend has so dominated headlines and social feeds over the past week that there’s little to say that hasn’t already been said, vehemently debated, said again, and debated again. The intersection of sexual orientation, gun violence, and the spectre of terror has turned a tragedy into a series of hot-button sound bites that polarize instead of allowing us to grieve together.
I’m not going to use this post to put forward an argument about gun control or a plea that we not use this violence to justify more hatred. I have opinions on those topics, but we’re all so dug in, that I doubt my words would sway anyone who doesn’t already agree with them. If I have a stance in this post, it is simply that no one should live in fear of violence just because of who they are. Hopefully that’s an idea we can all get behind, though I’m not so naive as to believe it’s not without its detractors.
The reality is that violence against the LGBT community is nothing new. Yes, violence on the scale we saw in Orlando is unprecedented, but LGBT individuals are regularly the targets of violence and harassment on smaller scales. According to FBI statistics, LGBT people are the victims of more hate crimes than any other minority group. But the numbers behind those statistics tell an even scarier story.
LGBT people of color, and particularly transgender women of color, are significantly more likely to be victims of hate crimes than white gay men or white lesbians, according to the Anti-Violence Project.
- Nearly two-thirds of LGBT hate crime victims were people of color in 2015.
- The percentage of undocumented individuals who were victimized increased by 183 percent.
- Transgender survivors of hate crimes made up 22 percent of all survivors. However, among homicide victims, they represented 67 percent of those killed for being, or being perceived as, LGBT. This, despite the fact that many estimate transgender individuals make up approximately 2 percent of the LGBT population.
- Among transgender homicide victims, between 2012 and 2015, a staggering 87 percent were people of color. In fact, many trans activists have estimated that–between violence, lack of access to adequate healthcare, disproportionately high poverty levels, and greater suicide risk–the average life expectancy for a trans woman of color is 35 years old. 35. Let that sink in for a moment.
While these statistics are alarming, they are likely only scratching the surface. Hate crimes are underreported for a wide variety of reasons. Some police forces do not have the proper procedures in place to collect and report on hate crime incidences. LGBT victims who survive a hate crime may choose not to report the crime for fear of being outed to family members who might kick them out of their homes or otherwise ostracize them, employers who in many places can still legally fire LBGT employees, or landlords who can often evict tenants based on sexual orientation.
Of those LGBT survivors who do report a hate crime, 39 percent are further victimized by responding police, with reports ranging from verbal harassment and slurs to physical and even sexual violence. Fear of police response may also keep many victims from reporting hate crimes.
This is not just a “gay thing.” The story behind these statistics is one of a fight for survival for LGBT communities of color. The story behind the Pulse nightclub shooting, where the victims were predominantly Latinx, is one of a fight for safe spaces for communities that are too often the targets of hatred and violence simply because of who they are.
In a 2015 report, Addressing Anti-Transgender Violence, the Human Rights Campaign wrote of transgender individuals that “there are few if any places they feel safe.” The people who were dancing at Pulse were in a space they gathered because they felt they could express themselves without fear of violent retribution. Today, LGBT communities across our country, particularly those of color, have one less space they can feel safe.