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LGBT Americans target of violent hate crimes more than any other group

June 13, 2016 at 6:30 PM EDT
The Orlando mass shooting put a new focus on efforts to pass hate crime laws — and the sobering reality that LGBT Americans are more than twice as likely to be the target of a violent hate-crime than Muslims or African-Americans. Gwen Ifill talks to Rachel Tiven of Lambda Legal and Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center on how recent LGBT rights successes may be stoking more anti-gay violence.

GWEN IFILL: The president has called the shootings not just an act of terror, but also an act of hate. This is not the first time that members of the LGBT community have been targets, but in the wake of decades of progress and acceptance, it is resonating differently now.

We examine that with Rachel Tiven, the incoming CEO of Lambda Legal, a national organization which works for the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people, and Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which closely monitors hate crimes and threats throughout the United States.

Mark Potok, I want to start by asking for a definition here. What is a hate crime?

MARK POTOK, Southern Poverty Law Center: Well, the definitions are a bit fuzzy, because, of course, there are many state laws that all express it differently.

But, essentially, a hate crime is a crime that is motivated in whole or in part by bias against a particular named class of people, LGBT people, black people, white people, certain religions and so on. It is generally different, I think, than terrorism, in the sense that it is not a kind of public display crime.

It can happen in private with no notice at all. So it’s not the kind of crime that is carried out in order to send a message to thousands of people, as terrorist crimes are, or to change the way an entire community acts.

GWEN IFILL: Rachel Tiven, is it significant, or was it significant to you to hear the president of the United States immediately go to the word hate in describing what he saw happen in Orlando?

RACHEL B. TIVEN, Lambda Legal: Absolutely, because it is important for the president to acknowledge the victims here.

And I want to talk about the victims. The victims of this crime were LGBT Latinos and their friends and their allies. And that — seeing that either be lost in this conversation or, worse, be appropriated by people who have sought to harm LGBT people in the past is really bitter and hollow at this time.

GWEN IFILL: Well, could you expand on that a little bit? What is significant — specifically significant about the fact that the targets in this case were Latinos, gays and lesbians?

RACHEL B. TIVEN: What is significant is that this wasn’t an accidental target, right?

The perpetrator of this crime didn’t happen to be walking by and choose this target by accident. We have heard that — from his father that he harbored significant animosity toward LGBT people, and that that may have been — when we find out from the FBI more about his motives, that may have been a part of the narrative.

But we don’t even need to ask what the motive was. When you target a gay club, a place that LGBT people go to congregate and murder the people who are there, unfortunately, that is an act that speaks for itself.

GWEN IFILL: Mark Potok, I know you keep track of hate crimes around the country, and I wonder as you — in your records, how much more does this happen — or does it happen more with LGBT people than other people? How much of a target is that community?

MARK POTOK: Very much so.

We looked actually at 14 years of FBI data, hate crime data, and made comparisons to the size of the populations of various minority groups in this country. And to make a very long story short, what we found was that, on a per capita basis, at least in recent years, LGBT people are targeted for violent hate crimes at a rate of two times that of gay — I’m sorry — of Muslims or black people, four times that of Jews, and 14 times that of Latinos.

So, the bottom line is that LGBT people really are targeted in a way that no other minority group or at a rate higher than any other minority group in this country, at least in recent times.


MARK POTOK: I think maybe it’s worth pointing out that, just three years ago, on New Year’s Eve of 2013 in Seattle, a man tried to burn alive 750 people in an upstairs gay club there called Neighbours. He wasn’t successful. Quick-thinking patrons discovered the fire in the stairwell and put it out.

But there might well have been an enormous casualty list in that case.

GWEN IFILL: Rachel Tiven, is this, any of this, in your observation, opinion, backlash against the gains that LGBT people have made in recent years, including marriage?

RACHEL B. TIVEN: Unfortunately, we have seen backlash.

We have seen that, in the past year, more than 200 bills have been introduced by state legislatures and localities around the country, not just in a couple of states, seeking to strip LGBT people of equal rights, seeking to avoid protection from discrimination for LGBT people.

And we have seen lies, right? We have seen lies about who LGBT people are. We have seen state legislatures say that there is a danger to washing your hands in a bathroom next to a transgender person, when they know that that is untrue.

And I think that, after the incredible that carnage that we saw this week, to honor the memories of the people who died by saying enough, enough. We’re going to come together and we’re going to end this hate speech against LGBT people. We are going to stop lying about who LGBT people are, in the way that, after Charleston, which is a sad anniversary we are approaching, that the country came together and said, we’re going to examine how we talk about race and what symbols we use, because attacking people because someone is uncomfortable with who other people are and the ways that they are different from them, that’s not American.

GWEN IFILL: Let me ask you both this question, finally, which is, how much more power does this particular attack have on the imagination, to the degree that it has been tied up with terrorism, as opposed to — in addition to hate crimes, Mark Potok?

MARK POTOK: Well, I think it has a great power on the imagination.

I mean, the carnage was just incredible, and the mixture of motives. I mean, it seems to me it’s very unclear what this man’s motives were. They seem to have really been all three strands, a kind of terrorist strand, to the extent he seems to be at least somewhat related to Islamist ideas, a hate crime strand, in that it was clearly a huge animus directed against LGBT people, and then a mental health, or just kind of internal rage strand, in which this man seemed to be angry at absolutely everyone around him.

GWEN IFILL: And, briefly, Rachel Tiven?

RACHEL B. TIVEN: Well, we shouldn’t be surprised, unfortunately. Right?

We shouldn’t be surprised that the kind of animosity that has been sanctioned by state and local governments around the country, when mixed with easy access to heavy weapons, leads to a tragedy like this one.

GWEN IFILL: Rachel Tiven of Lambda Legal and Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, thank you both very much.

RACHEL B. TIVEN: Thank you.

MARK POTOK: Thank you.