While the mainstream LGBTQ rights movement made historic progress in 2013, LGBTQ and HIV-affected people around the country still face appalling rates of prejudice-fueled violence and discrimination. During 2013, Manhattan alone—from Harlem to Greenwich Village—saw multiple, brutal attacks on LGBTQ and HIV-affected residents. These incidents, as well as the broader struggles of LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities around the country, point to the complex nature of violence animated by bias and call attention to the enormous work yet to be done to ensure social justice for all people—across race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and other vectors of identity.
Recently, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) published its 2013 report, which documents and discusses hate violence against LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities. The findings underscore the ongoing challenges faced by these communities, and shows how violence continues to shape their lives in troubling and pervasive ways.
In the study, “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual, Queer and HIV-Affected Hate Violence in 2013,” the NCAVP used data reported from its 14 member organizations in cities around the country and analyzed 2,001 reported incidents of hate violence, or violence motivated by the victim’s identity status, whether perceived or actual, in 2013. From analysis of its person-level data, NCAVP found an increased rate of hate violence against individuals with intersecting marginalized identities.
For instance, the report found that transgender people of color, when compared to other LGBTQ or HIV-affected people, were more likely to experience physical violence from law enforcement; more likely to experience sexual violence; more likely to experience violence in shelters; more likely to experience discrimination, harassment, threats, and intimidation; and were more likely to require medical attention as a result of hate violence. LGBTQ and HIV-affected people of color, when compared to the rest of the report’s sample, were also more likely to experience physical violence, discrimination, threats and intimidation, police violence, and violence in the workplace and public areas.
Moreover, when LGBTQ people try to report incidents to the police, they often face indifferent (28.81 percent) or openly hostile (32.2 percent) responses. This means that in more than 60 percent of responses to hate violence, police were either indifferent or hostile—a particularly sobering aspect of this report.
Undocumented members of the LGBTQ and/or HIV-affected communities are also often vulnerable targets of hate violence, the report asserts. In fact, while undocumented people make up about 3 percent of the LGBTQ community in the United States, they represent about 8 percent of hate violence survivors. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, undocumented people were more likely to report incidents to police, which the report suggests may have to do with increased rates of hospitalization and increased outreach efforts in these communities. Still, undocumented people face particular challenges after experiencing violence, given the threat of arrest and deportation.
In its conclusion, the report calls upon policy makers and funders to “end the root causes” of hate violence against LGBTQ and HIV-affected people by ending poverty and discrimination. NCAVP urges these groups to use their resources and influence to increase public awareness of LGBTQ and HIV-affected issues, to denounce the culture of bias that produces hateful beliefs in individuals, to end police profiling of LGBTQ and HIV-affected people, to collect more data on these communities and their experiences with violence, and to increase funding for local and national violence prevention programs.
The Limits of Law Enforcement in Addressing “Hate” Violence
As the report’s discussion of law enforcement begins to suggest, LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities must navigate a fraught and complicated struggle in trying to live free from violence. For one, while law enforcement officials may ostensibly seek to establish safer communities, definitions of safety and security, and even of who “counts” as a member of the community, are often guided by dominant narratives and structures that are related to these “root causes” of hate violence. It is no accident that the report finds that cisgender white males were most likely to report hate violence and most likely to get a favorable police reaction.
The ability of the police and FBI to reduce, rather than exacerbate, violence is further called into question by the militarization of local police departments, which has been prominently documented by the ACLU. It’s in large part a symptom of our fearful post-9/11 world, particularly among security professionals. Even the FBI’s principal defense of its hate crime policy invokes the specter of domestic terrorism:
“Investigating hate crime is the number one priority of our Civil Rights Program. Why? Not only because hate crime has a devastating impact on families and communities, but also because groups that preach hatred and intolerance plant the seeds of terrorism here in our country.”
The FBI’s numbers regarding instances of hate violence are also far below those of NCAVP’s reporting, even considering the fact NCAVP’s reports include instances of violence that are not reported to law enforcement agencies, local or federal. The difference is so stark—a discrepancy of 600 survivors or victims, with the federal numbers about 68 percent below NCAVP’s—that the report calls them “disconcerting.” As the report states,
“Federal hate crime reporting guidelines require that a hate crime be classified as motivated by a single type of bias. Therefore, a hate incident which was motivated by racism and homophobia would be reported as motivated by race or sexual orientation, which fails to demonstrate and address the multiple forms of bias involved.”
This single-bias requirement isn’t just a harmless bureaucratic restriction, it’s a sign of an ideological shortsightedness regarding the relationship between prejudice and violence. This procedural shortcoming is evidence that the intersectional and systemic components of violence against the LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities are at best considered inconsequential, and at worst unintelligible or not understandable, to the lens of law enforcement.
How are we to proactively address the root causes of homophobic, transphobic, racist, and sexist violence if the very institutions that promise to ensure physical security are stuck in a narrative of self-defense that requires its own “war” on crime and terrorism? Ultimately, the struggle for social justice and the holistic, subtle and violence-free vision that it requires is not the same struggle that criminal justice and law enforcement institutions are waging in their efforts to “combat” crime and terrorism.
Overall, all of these challenges suggest that the frame of “hate violence” is at best a limited one. Kay Whitlock (whose 2012 discussion paper for PRA heavily influenced the framework of this blog post) talks about how the concept of “hate crimes” is arguably counter-effective in stopping violence against people with marginalized identities. She notes that the concept of “hate” cloaks the offender with a “fringe,” “extremist,” or outsider connotation, releasing them from any connection to “mainstream political, economic, social and religious institutions who seek to maintain traditional hierarchies of power.” Moreover, the “crime frame,” associated with the related term, “hate crime,” treats deviant or unacceptably violent behavior as psychologically, rather than historically, constituted. In this framework such activity is likely to be perpetrated by the very marginalized or “criminalized” populations who are supposed to benefit from hate crime laws, and renders rule breaking as addressable only by punitive measures and an increasingly reprehensible prison-industrial complex .
Instead, Whitlock urges us, if we really want to address the root causes of what the report calls “hate violence” against LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities, we must transcend the dominant narratives and approaches to security, the misleading label of “hate,” and the seemingly localized instances of and merely punitive responses to violence. As the report suggests, let’s work to dismantle “the homophobic, transphobic, and biphobic culture that fuels violence,” work to change police and criminal justice responses away from the punitive and towards the regenerative, and increase our efforts to provide local, safe, educational spaces in which to propel our society forward towards an inclusive justice.