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The Violence of the Everyday

Even before the Pulse massacre, 2016 was on track to be the deadliest year for LGBTQ people in America.
A Minneapolis vigil following the Pulse massacre.

A Minneapolis vigil following the Pulse massacre.

Even before the mass killing at an Orlando gay club's Latinx night one year ago this week, 2016 was on track to be the deadliest on record for LGBTQ people in the United States. According to a new report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, it had reports of 28 anti-LGBTQ homicides by the end of 2016, a 17 percent increase from the previous year. That was without including the 49 lives taken at Pulse.

There is another way to look at the numbers: Just under every two years, in the queer community in the U.S., it is like there is another Pulse massacre, one murder at a time, and too few people seem to notice.

This is the slow, everyday reality of anti-LGBTQ violence in America: LGBTQ people of color make up the vast majority of those killed, according to the NCAVP, along with transgender and gender-non-conforming people. Nineteen of these recorded homicides—61 percent of those killed in 2016—were transgender women of color. Reports from survivors of anti-LGBTQ violence—which the NCAVP received from partner organizations across the country—also cast light on who is committing this violence. In 1,036 reports, the majority of survivors experienced violence from someone they knew: a landlord or neighbor, a relative or family member, an employer or co-worker, or ex-lovers or partners.

What this all means is that anti-LGBTQ violence was already becoming deadlier, even before President Donald Trump and his fiercely anti-gay conversion therapy proponent Vice President Mike Pence entered office. Now, with what we know about violence in 2016 based on available reports, what can we expect to experience in this climate? The Trump administration has already backed laws that permit anti-LGBTQ discrimination at work and school, and plans to gut funding for survivors of intimate partner violence (straight and LGBTQ). And every cut—to AIDS prevention and treatment funding, to public housing and education—exposes more LGBTQ people to violence, by making everyday survival more tenuous. This can also make LGBTQ people more dependent on families and partners, who can withdraw that support or become abusive, and on their broader communities who are already struggling to get by.

The fact that the majority of anti-LGBTQ violence is committed by someone the survivor knew must also inform what prevention and advocacy work will look like. According to the NCAVP, "Nearly half of survivors reported experiencing violence in either a private residence or a workplace, and Latinx survivors were 2.6 times more likely than non-Latinx survivors to experience violence by an employer." One Latinx survivor in the report, a transgender woman restaurant worker and labor organizer named Jessie, was assaulted by two male patrons. When she sought help from the police, they just offered her a victim's assistance form written in English; her primary language is Spanish. Her labor union helped her connect with an anti-violence program and fundraised for her time spent healing.

This indifference from police, as well as outright hostility, was the norm for survivors. "Of those who interacted with the police," the NCAVP writes, "35% of survivors said that the police were indifferent and 31% said the police were hostile." They also found 52 incidents of police misconduct in response to survivors' reports, including "excessive force, unjustified arrest, entrapment, and raids." Black survivors, they report, were 2.8 times more likely than non-black survivors to experience excessive force from police.

Police abuse is why LGBTQ anti-violence organizations approach the idea of hate crime laws with caution. "While hate crime legislation is one recourse available to some survivors, the NCAVP reports show time and time again that many survivors do not engage with the criminal legal system because many people experience bias, discrimination, and violence by police," the report states. "Additionally, much of the violence that LGBTQ survivors experience does not meet the level of violence that is required to be considered a hate crime." Solutions might look more like collaborative efforts along the lines of what Jessie used—drawing on the communities she was already part of, like her labor union, to support her when the police did not.

With the high numbers of LGBTQ people facing violence from those they already know, it is time to zero in again on the truth that fighting anti-LGBTQ violence cannot be reduced to declaring "safe spaces," unless that also includes making where we live and where we work safe too. Likewise, the LGBTQ community cannot be kept safe with demands for "safe streets" policed by "tolerant cops with rainbow badges, not when police so frequently respond to violence with neglect or further abuse.

After years of gay rights' successes, the legacy of the massacre at Pulse might be to make anti-LGBTQ violence so prominent that the world will not turn away again. But it might also be this: a moment to recognize that we are not numb to the power of anything but the most exceptional acts of violence. What we are is overwhelmed after decades of fighting its ordinariness.