While the response of U.S. politicians to the tragic Orlando shooting that killed 49 mostly Latino victims in a gay nightclub have focused largely on anti-terrorism rhetoric to justify increased surveillance at home and bombing abroad, the homegrown problem of homophobia looms large as statistics on hate crimes offer a clear and chilling reminder that the LGBTQ community, especially people of color, remains under attack in the United States.
According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, there were 24 hate murders of LGBTQ people in the U.S. in 2015, a 20 percent increase from the year before. Most of the homicide victims were transgender and gender nonconforming individuals and nearly two thirds were people of color, mostly Black and some Latino.
The NCAVP’s 2015 report also collected data on 1,253 incidents of hate-related violence against LGBTQ and HIV-affected victims. Among these cases, 60 percent of hate crimes were against LGBTQ people of color. Within that group, Latinos were the most targeted at 28 percent of victims of color, followed by Black people at 21 percent.
Though comprehensive, the data represents just 12 states. What’s more, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that 60 percent of violent hate crimes were not reported to police in 2012, suggesting that violent acts of hate against LGBTQ communities is likely much higher nationwide.
Nevertheless, the pattern of violence is palpable. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, nearly 20 percent of victims in single-bias hate crimes in 2014 were targeted based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, second only to racially-motivated hate crimes.
The New York Time reported Thursday that LGBTQ people are the “most likely targets of hate crimes” in the United States as of 2014.
The FBI and U.S. law enforcement have so far focused on the “Islamist terrorism” angle behind Orlando shooter Omar Mateen’s rampage at the Pulse gay nightclub on June 12. Mateen reportedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group during the attack, though he also previously expressed contradictory support for Hezbollah and al-Nusra, groups fiercely at war.
But witness reports have also surfaced of Mateen’s likely homosexuality, including the fact that he frequented the Pulse nightclub and also used gay dating apps. His closeted gay identity, at odds with family members’ reports that he had strong homophobic opinions, suggest Mateen’s terrorizing act of hate had more to do with his own tortured sense of sexuality than radical Islamic extremism.
Meanwhile, the FBI has reportedly instructed Mateen’s ex-wife Sitora Yusufiy not to speak of his homosexuality or the fact that she, his family, and others believed he was gay, suggesting authorities may want to downplay the conflicted, self-hating, and homophobic nature of the hate crime in favor of the Islamic terrorism-related one.
Many analysts have pointed out that the Orlando shooting urgently calls for attention to how a culture of strict gender norms, normalized misogyny, and toxic masculinity are fueling a crisis of male violence in the United States.
Given the number of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes across the country, understanding the widespread and often violent discrimination against the people for their sexual orientation and gender identity—especially people of color who are disproportionately marginalized and targeted—is undoubtedly part of the equation.