The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) has issued their annual report on the number of reported violent crimes against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people in 2009. While the findings are disturbing enough, keep in mind that such statistics are notoriously under-reported, with many law enforcement agencies not collecting, reporting, or recognizing anti-LGBT animus in violent crimes or including crimes in which perceived (not actual) sexual orientation or gender identity are factors.
NCAVP's conclusions are still extremely worrying:
- Murders at second-highest rate in a decade
- Spike in anti-LGBTQ violence at time of federal hate crimes law passage
- Economic crisis depletes resources for LGBTQ survivors of violence
Even more telling are how the crimes disproportionally effect communities of color and transgender women or feminine-presenting people in the LGBT community.
Communities of Color and Transgender People Targeted for Hate
While the actual number of murders is 22 (the second-highest rate in a decade), the NCAVP makes sure to stress that they know that number is likely extremely low due to "the coalition's member reporting groups suffering funding cuts last year." But the way even those numbers break down show which part of the community is being hit the hardest and targeted with violence:
Of the 22 reported hate murder victims in 2009, 79% were people of color, and most were transgender women or were feminine-presenting. As evidenced in this report, members of traditionally marginalized communities continue to be disproportionately targeted for severe violence. "These facts are deeply disturbing as these are the same people who are more likely to face discrimination, criminalization or further violence when interacting with criminal legal and social service systems. What we see is that they are less likely to seek and access support from these institutions," said Maria Carolina Morales, Intervention Director of Community United Against Violence (CUAV) in San Francisco.
The most marginalized parts of an already marginalized group like the LGBT community are being targeted in horrific numbers. And the lack of access to to support and services that could help are only compounding the problem.
Backlash for Pro-Equality Legislation
Also disturbing is the seeming backlash from the Hate Crimes Act signed into law in 2009:
Notably, NCAVP saw the highest spike in reported incidents of violence in October 2009, coinciding with the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. This statistic seems to reflect a correlation between increased visibility and increased vulnerability and targeting.
This isn't the first study to see a link between LGBT-related legislation (both pro and anti-equality) and increases in violence. For example, Florida saw an uptick in anti-LGBT violence after the nasty, anti-gay campaign to pass Amendment 2 in 2008 (the so-called "Marriage Protection Amendment" to the state constitution that banned same-sex marriage and any related relationship recognition), as did California after the Prop 8 battle. The increased visibility of the LGBT and allied communities in these fights, along with the increased animus stirred up by anti-equality forces in campaigns filled with wild claims against the LGBT community, often leads to explosive and deadly results.
Slashes in Services for Hate Crime Survivors
MAlso worrying is that support and services for hate crime survivors have been hit hard by the economic downturn:
Despite these disturbing trends, financial support and much needed services for hate violence survivors have only declined due to ongoing economic conditions.
During the past year, NCAVP member organizations lost crucial staff and programming in the wake of the fiscal crisis. In a survey of members participating in this report, 50% of respondents laid off staff (at an average decrease of 56% of all positions), 70% reported budget decreases, and others could not expand positions, staff hours or programming, despite a demonstrated need for such growth. We believe that this drastically limited the ability of LGBTQ people to report violence and access vital support and services in 2009," said Lisa Gilmore, Director of Education and Victim Advocacy at Center on Halsted in Chicago.
These deep slashes are leaving people with no place to turn or no assistance in the event they fall prey to hate crimes, especially the most targeted, marginalized groups like communities of color and the trans community. The ability to report crimes, help those affected, and educate about such acts have been severely compromised as funding dollars get cut and priorities shift to other places.
Stopping the Climb in Hate-Based Incidents
It is important to remember that many of the incidents reported to NCAVP, such as intimidation, harassment and other forms of discrimination (62%), may not fall in the category of criminal acts and aren't included in these already troubling numbers of reported hate crimes. This type of harassment, which too often can escalate into violent acts, is an everyday fact for many in the LGBT community, especially those that live in marginalized sub-groups of the queer community.
Too many, these acts aren't statistics or numbers, they are everyday life.
Some of the best tools we have to raise awareness of these crimes (and thus help shift funding priorities and discussions to an area of the fight for equality too often swept under the rug) is to report the incidents and to keep pointing out the increasingly desperate and violent rhetoric from those that oppose equal rights for LGBT people:
Ann Atkins, Program Director of SafeSpace at the R U 1 2? Community Center in Winooski, VT, states, "Hate violence can be challenged by everyone, on all levels, by working with and reporting even what seem to be the slightest acts to local anti-violence programs. This sort of reporting supports efforts to prevent the escalation of incidents as well as document the scope of anti- LGBTQ hate in our communities."
NCAVP's report strongly recommends that the federal and state governments and criminal legal systems support anti-violence programs by ceasing cutbacks, releasing allocated funding and increasing funding for prevention, education, and data collection. Most critically, NCAVP calls upon these institutions to end discriminatory practices that further promote anti-LGBTQ hate violence.
"Ending anti-LGBTQ hate violence will require nothing less than a profound cultural shift supported at all levels of society," said Crystal Middlestadt, Director of Education & Advocacy at the Colorado Anti-Violence Program. "Educators, lawmakers, service providers and the general public must support the work of anti- violence programs and LGBTQ people to transform a culture of hate into one that is inclusive, healthy and safe for all."
This report certainly shows what many have been saying for years- there are direct lines that can be traced between the efforts and rhetoric of anti-equality forces and bias-based crimes against the LGBT community. And the targets of this violence end up being the most unprotected, yet visible, groups- communities of color and trans or feminine-presenting people.
The need to stop the cycle of hate with education, outreach, funding, and honest discussion of the tactics and outcomes of those that oppose equal rights is clear. We may be making slow strides as the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice for LGBT people, but there are still many paying the price in the struggle whose stories are never heard and whose voices are silenced by violence.