by Lindsay Wissman, Volunteer at Moms Demand Action
On June 12, 2016, a man opened fire inside Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL.
In a space where members of LGBTQ+ and Queer Latinx communities went to feel safe and accepted, a gunman fatally shot 49 people, wounded over 50 more, and undoubtedly changed the lives of every person in attendance and their communities that night.
It wasn’t the first mass shooting, and it certainly wasn’t the last. The tragedy at Pulse—and during Pride month, no less—was a stark reminder of the hatred the LGBTQ+ community faces on a regular basis.
The effects of this violent act can be felt all the way here in Northeast Ohio. Two of the victims from the evening of June 12, 2016 grew up in Cleveland. One survived. One did not.
Hate crimes do not happen in a vacuum. They ripple across entire communities impacting their ability to navigate and participate in the world safely. This was also true for Queer and Latinx communities in Ohio.
As a volunteer for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America (a part of Everytown for Gun Safety), I know the statistics. The connection between bias-motivated crimes and access to firearms is not a matter of debate, regardless of the bias. While hate crimes are generally under-reported, these statistics start to paint a picture of the way gun violence impacts the Latinx & LGBTQ+ communities:
- On average, firearms are used in more than 10,300 hate crimes committed in the U.S. annually (just over 28 every single day).
- In Latinx communities, 3,800 people die from gun violence in the US every year.
- In 2018, over 1,300 reported hate crimes were deemed to be motivated by LGBTQ+ bias.
- In 2018, hate crimes against LGBTQ+ persons increased by 11%.
- Research also found that an increase in Hispanic immigration in recent years has been associated with an increase in anti-Latinx hate crimes.
- In 2019, the Southern Poverty Law Center found that the number of LGBTQ+ hate groups increased by 43%.
- Racially motivated hate crimes are the most common, with nearly half of race-based hate crimes targeting Black people.
- A 2019 report found that 10 percent of Latino adults had been victimized by a hate crime in the past year.
- Two-thirds of transgender people killed in the United States were killed with a gun. Black transgender women are disproportionately impacted by gun violence. While Black people make up 16% of the trans population, 75% of known trans homicide victims between 2017 and 2020 were Black.
Including firearms in the discussion of hate crimes is not even close to a new idea. In fact, they were the main catalyst for the first hate crime laws in the U.S., heavily influenced by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 updated these statutes.
Of course, Matthew Shepard’s name is familiar to the LGBTQ+ community. The 21-year-old college student in Wyoming was targeted for being gay. I won’t rehash the brutal details of his murder—they are beyond disturbing—but the motivation must be remembered.
While the Pulse shooting increased awareness of hate crimes with a gun, it would be remiss to ignore the role firearms play in two other critical areas.
Studies show that LGBTQ+ people are at higher risk of attempting suicide, and that access to a firearm triples the risk of suicide death.
With 40% of trans people reporting having attempted suicide in their lifetime (nearly nine times the national average), this intersection has deadly consequences.
Furthermore, one study found that victims of intimate partner violence are five times more likely to be killed if the abuser has access to a gun. Considering that intimate partner violence already disproportionately impacts the LGBTQ+ community, the increased risk when a gun is involved should be enough to spark action from everyone.
We cannot ignore the role that legislation plays in disarming hate. There are multiple bills on both the federal and state level that have the potential to decrease hate crimes involving firearms, including:
- Extreme Risk or “Red Flag” Laws [OH H.B. 257] which give family members and law enforcement a way to intervene before warning signs (such as violent behavior and threats) escalate into tragedies. Under these laws, a petitioner can ask a judge to issue a court order—often known as an extreme risk protection order (ERPO)—to temporarily remove guns from a dangerous situation when there is evidence someone is a risk to themselves or others. Please call your state Senator and Representative (find them here) and let them know how important this is to you.
- Bipartisan Legislation to Strengthen our background check laws: The Senate has the opportunity to close loopholes that exist in our current federal law. Background checks are the foundation of any effort to prevent gun violence. Federal law requires background checks on all gun sales by licensed gun dealers but does not require them for sales by unlicensed sellers, including people who sell guns to strangers they meet online or at gun shows. The Senate should take urgent bipartisan action to update the law to close these dangerous loopholes. Please call Senators Brown and Portman and let them know how important this is to you.
A coalition of organizations including QLatinx, The LGBT+ Center Orlando, the OnePulse Foundation, Equality Florida, Equality Federation Institute, Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation is teaming up to elevate events happening locally in Orlando and create opportunities for people to engage nationally in the remembrance.
On June 12, the coalition will host a National Discussion on the tragedy at Pulse streaming on Facebook at 5:00pm ET followed by a National Moment of Silence at 6:00pm ET.
Please join us as we honor and remember both victims and survivors, and commit to creating a world without gun violence.
- Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is a grassroots movement of Americans fighting for public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence. Learn more by going to their website.
- Attend the National Discussion on the tragedy at Pulse streaming on Facebook on June 12 at 5:00pm EST followed by a National Moment of Silence at 6:00pm EST.