To center our reaction to the tragedy in Florida around ideological terrorism is to ignore an uncomfortable truth: Regardless of potential ISIS connections, the hatred behind the Orlando shooter’s attack was homegrown. Recent discriminatory laws and policies have made America an unsafe place for LGBT citizens — and new research finds some of the first quantitative evidence that policies on gay and lesbian rights are directly linked with hate-crime incidence.
A recent study led by sociologists at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill has found that legal inequalities increase the frequency of hate crimes; similarly, they find that pro-LGBT policies reduce violence. Using annual panel data from 2000 to 2012, the researchers analyzed policies of employment non-discrimination and anti-hate-crime laws, and find that both reduce the incidence of hate crimes based on sexual orientation. They also find that “pro-equality policies in one state may yield spillover benefits for individuals in other ‘nearby’ states,” meaning local policies aren’t just good for locals — they provide similar benefits to other LGBT citizens in other states.
What this means is that the unprecedented progress the gay rights movement has made over the past 15 years has very real consequences for the lives of LGBT Americans. Previous research has shown that public policies have a large impact on the mental and physical health of gay and lesbian citizens — these new findings build on that by showing a link between government policies and safer public lives for the LGBT community. The research also means that policymakers can and should be held accountable for the safety of gay and lesbian Americans.
Politicians have taken to Twitter to show solidarity with the victims of Orlando. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant tweeted on Sunday that he is “praying for God’s peace and comfort for those affected by the horrific act of terror in Orlando.” Bryant, however, is one of many politicians pushing forward legislation that directly endangers gay and lesbian citizens — policies that research shows have a direct correlation with hate-crime frequency. Bryant recently signed HB-1523, also known as the Religious Liberty Accommodations Act, which allows organizations to fire or refuse to employ LGBT citizens; to decline to rent or sell them property; and to deny them marriage, adoption, and foster care services. Despite what his tweets might read, Bryant is putting LGBT lives at risk.