The recent mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando proved that though significant strides have been made in the fight for LGBT inclusion and equality in the U.S., LGBT folks are still very much under attack. In fact, a new analysis of FBI data on hate crime statistics from 2014 demonstrates that members of the LGBT community are more likely to be targets of hate crimes than any other minority.
The analysis was undertaken by the New York Times this past week and shows that of 5,462 “single-bias incidents” (hate crimes with a single motivation) studied by the FBI, 1,115 were motivated by a bias against a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Of these incidents, 56% targeted gay men specifically.
Though the numbers are staggering, they don’t tell the whole story. Hate crime data is difficult to collect as it relies exclusively on self-reporting. This proves challenging as victims might choose not to report an attack as a hate crime because of where they live (the rural South, for example) or because they don’t want to be outed to their families. Further, authorities in notoriously anti-LGBT communities have been shown to under-report these crimes. This means that, in all likelihood, the number of hate crimes committed against LGBT individuals is higher than the FBI is able to report.
In addition to the challenge of collecting raw hate crime data, definitions of what constitute a hate crime can vary wildly from state to state, a fact Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, pointed out in an interview on PBS Newshour. This variance, he suggests, not only gets in the way of being able to fully assess nationwide trends but often leads to politicians confounding hate crimes with acts of terrorism.
Describing a hate crime as an act of terrorism (as many politicians were wont to do in the aftermath of the Orlando massacre) downplays the role that a specific group’s identity played in the crime. This erasure halts progress and redirects the conversation away from the very real and horrific roots of the atrocity, in this case that the men and women murdered at Pulse were specifically targeted for being members of the LGBT Latinx community.
Though the mass shooting at Orlando was a hate crime played out on a massive scale, the report from the Times throws a spotlight on the hard truth that it was not an isolated incident. As the LGBT community, and country as a whole, continue to process and mourn for the tragic loss of life at Pulse nightclub, it is vital to remember that LGBT individuals, especially those who exist at the intersection of other persecuted identities, are and will continue to be among some of the most at risk for violence in this country.