On Saturday, I celebrated. I walked through DuPont Circle, surrounded by my community in all its beautiful diversity. June is LGBTQ Pride Month, commemorating the Compton’s Cafeteria and Stonewall riots, the catalysts of the LGBTQ movement. Last June, people across the country celebrated the landmark Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage. To many, it seemed that equality had finally been won.
On Sunday, I wept. I wept for my community. I wept for the 49 lives lost and for their loved ones. I wept for the 53 injured and countless others whose sense of safety was stolen the night before when a young man walked into Pulse, a gay night club in Orlando, with a gun he legally purchased and opened fire on innocent people. It was the 176th mass shooting (four or more people shot in one incident) this year.
Many are surprised at this stunning rampage of violence, but the most shocking aspect of the shooting in Orlando is its devastating magnitude, not the targeting of a gay night club. The reality is that LGBTQ people are more likely than any other minority group to be victims of a hate crime.
Gay men are two times more likely than straight men to experience physical violence. Lesbian women are two times more likely than straight women to experience sexual violence. Young people who identify as bisexual are twice as likely to experience teen-dating and intimate-partner violence.
In 2015, more transgender people were murdered than in any other year on record. Compared with the general population, transgender people are six times more likely to experience physical violence from police—hardly a mark of progress from the Compton’s Cafeteria and Stonewall riots sparked by police brutality against LGBTQ people.
And we cannot ignore that Saturday night at Pulse was Latinx night. LGBTQ people of color are even more vulnerable to violence because they stand at an intersection of societal and structural oppressions many of us do not face. In 2014, all transgender women who were murdered were women of color. LGBTQ people of color are two times more likely to experience physical violence than the general population.
These rates of victimization occur in a legislative climate that does not offer universal equal protections to the LGBTQ community. Florida law does not include protections against work discrimination. North Carolina recently enacted its anti-LGBTQ “bathroom bill” that forces people to use the bathroom that matches their biological sex rather than gender identity. And many other bills targeting the LGBTQ community have appeared in state legislatures, from refusing to provide adoption services to equal access to medical care.
Where do we go from here? What can we do to prevent future tragedies? How can we protect and support the LGTBQ community and honor the victims of the Orlando shooting?
Many policy solutions have been discussed over the past couple days. Yes, we need gun control. But we also need policy change in the form of nondiscrimination laws and protections in public, private, and professional spaces.
Fewer than half of all LGBTQ Americans live in states that protect them from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The current watershed of Religious Freedom Restoration Acts poses a real and imminent threat to the rights and freedoms of LGBTQ Americans in all states.
To combat homophobia, we must not allow it in our laws; no one should have legal justification to deny access and safety to their neighborhoods and community members based on any form of identity, including gender and sexual orientation.