Celebrate Pride and Progress, But Don’t Forget Victims of Hatred

The sun is shining, pools are open, and my Facebook feed is flooded with pictures of colorfully clothed (and some scantily clad) friends at Pride festivals across the country. It must be June!
It’s time to celebrate the LGBT community and the triumphs we’ve seen this year: The number of states that allow same-gender marriage has increased to 19. Facebook added gender options for its users, including preferred pronoun choices. Actress and transgender advocate Laverne Cox graced the cover of Time magazine. Visibility of and conversation about diverse sexual orientations and gender identities have increased in the mainstream.
We should celebrate the recognition of our lives and relationships. However, during this month’s festivities, let us not forget those who still live in fear every day of being persecuted simply for being themselves — victims of hate crimes.
According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) report Hate Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and HIV-Affected Communities in the United States in 2013, there were 2,001 incidents of hate violence reported to NCAVP member organizations in 2013. The report draws on data collected from 14 anti-violence programs in 13 states across the country and Puerto Rico.
Hate-motivated homicides affected some communities at exponentially higher rates than others. The report stated that “for a fourth year in a row, NCAVP’s findings reflect a disproportionate impact of deadly violence for people of color, transgender women, transgender people of color, and gay men.”
Almost 90 percent of all homicide victims reported in 2013 were people of color, the report states. Almost three-quarters (72 percent) of homicide victims were transgender women, and more than two-thirds (67 percent) of homicide victims were transgender women of color.
Trends indicate that the severity of violence has increased, with a 21 percent increase in reports of physical hate violence. This reflects the growing backlash seen on a national level as more states legalize same-sex marriage and recognize the need for non-discrimination policies that protect sexual orientation and gender identity.
In February, the Kansas House of Representatives passed House Bill 2453, the “Religious Freedom Bill.” This bill would have allowed people to refuse to provide service to individuals whose “marriage, domestic partnership, civil union, or similar arrangement” was not in line with the service provider’s religious beliefs. After receiving an onslaught of national media attention, the bill did not go to vote in the Senate. Efforts like these broadcast the idea that hate violence toward marginalized communities is not only acceptable, but sanctioned.
But despite efforts to legalize discrimination in the state, some residents are determined to create safe communities for all individuals. On May 20, the Topeka City Council approved two ordinances intended to protect the rights of LGBT city employees. One makes gender identity a protected class for city employment and requires that the city make a “good faith” effort to provide health insurance benefits for same-sex couples. The other establishes a domestic partner registry.
“I think that the average person in Topeka thinks it’s wrong to discriminate against people,” said Stephanie Mott, a board member of Equality Kansas. She said there was not a lot of push-back when the ordinances were passed.
“Hopefully these efforts will move us forward in establishing a city-wide anti-discrimination ordinance that is LGBT-inclusive,” she said.
It is the dedicated efforts of community members like Mott that will prevent hate violence. The passage of these ordinances is a move toward changing the face of a town once famous for the efforts of a few — Westboro Baptist Church members — to discriminate against the LGBT community.
It is important that, even in the face of hate, we challenge homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia. It is important that we recognize our privilege and challenge all forms of hate. Together we have the power to stop hate violence in our communities.
Now that’s something to celebrate.
Jessica Farmer is youth outreach coordinator for Kansas City Anti-Violence Project.

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