On Sunday morning, a gunman shot and killed at least 49 people in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. It's the largest mass shooting in American history, and it was a horrifying act of violence against the LGBTQ people who found sanctuary and community there.
But while the Orlando shooting is the worst the nation has seen, it's far from an isolated incident of LGBTQ people being targeted in America. Reports of some hate crimes against LGBTQ people are on the rise–and many are never reported to the police, according to new data released today from the National Coalition of Anti Violence Projects, collected from 1,253 survivors of hate violence who reported incidents to 13 NCAVP member groups across the country.
"In the days ahead we will learn more about this shooting, and a clearer picture of the motivations will emerge. However, individualizing the problem of hate violence is not the answer. Nor is condoning Islamophobia," said Beverly Tillery, Executive Director of the New York City Anti Violence Project. "Now is a time to stand in solidarity and collectively address the homophobia and transphobia in all of our environments, and actively work to challenge and change it if we are to be truly safe and free."
The NCAVP’s annual hate violence report found that while hate-crime related homicides and reports of hate-crime related injuries rose, fewer LGBTQ survivors of violence went to the police in 2015. The number of survivors who reported to the police dropped from 54% in 2014 to 41% last year. And when they did go to the police, 80% of survivors said they were met with hostility or indifference from authorities.
Emily Waters, one of the report's authors, said the way we think about hate violence should be broader than just physical violence, because other forms of violence can have psychological, social, and economic impacts on LGBTQ people. "Survivors were reporting experiencing other forms of violence, like slurs, or police misgendering them on purpose, or even sexual violence and those types of police violence aren't as much a part of the conversation as physical violence," she said. "And those forms of violence can often have very serious consequences, and they're often harder to report."
That increasing reluctance to report to police could partly be because of rising awareness of police brutality that's come about in the last year through movements like #BlackLivesMatter, Waters told me. But it's also because people seek out help from community groups and support organizations like the Anti Violence Projects when they don't feel confident that going to the police will help or even be a safe experience.
"Many of those survivors who did reach out for help experienced violence again from the police. And I think that creates kind of fear within the LGBTQ community of reaching out for help," said Waters.
The number of people reporting to NCAVP members that they were injured in a hate crime rose from 23% in 2014 to 31% in 2015. The total number of hate violence homicides against LGBTQ people has more than doubled since 2006:
The group counted 24 hate violence-related homicides last year, 20% more than the year before. More than half of those killed were transgender women of color. Many of the people killed in Orlando on Sunday were Latinx. The NCAVP report tells us that LGBTQ people of color are far more likely to be the targets of hate violence-related homicides.
That’s a trend that holds true more widely for hate violence outside of homicide, too. The report found that 60% of survivors of hate violence were people of color:
And 28% of those survivors were Latinx:
LGBTQ people who are also undocumented, the report found, can be particularly vulnerable to abuse because they may also be worried about their immigration status. The number of undocumented survivors who reported hate violence to the NCAVP rose from 6% in 2014 to 17% in 2015. That, Waters told me, most likely indicates that people are becoming more comfortable with coming forward to support groups because of more visible advocacy and public discussion about the challenges of being undocumented. Including undocumented LGBTQ people in national conversations about police violence and hate crimes more broadly is important, she said, to create an understanding of the particular challenges they face.
"It's a combination of fear of when they do report if their status will be used against them, and then they have the kind of added fear of transphobia or biphobia or homophobia and that both or either of their identities will be used against them when they report," she said.
In the aftermath of Sunday's shooting, it's worth thinking about the discrimination and hate violence that LGBTQ Americans still endure in their day-to-day lives. The NCAVP report found that 37% of incidents of hate violence happened in private residences, and that 62% of survivors knew the perpetrator.
"This kind of changes our approach to preventing and responding to this violence. It switches the responsibility to all of us to recognize that homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, exist in the environments that we are in—in our workplaces and in our schools and in our families," said Waters. "And it puts the responsibility on us to challenge that."