Gays Remain the Minority Most Targeted by Hate Crimes
Four teenagers commit suicide in a three-week span after being bullied, taunted or outed as homosexuals. Seven students — at least four of whom had endured anti-gay bullying — kill themselves over the course of a year in a single Minnesota school district. In New York, 10 suspects are arrested for torturing three gay victims. In Covington, Ky., a series of violent anti-gay attacks shock a trendy neighborhood. In Vonore, Tenn., a lesbian couple’s home, its garage spray-painted with “Queers,” is burned to the ground. A rash of attacks hits Washington, D.C. And in Michigan, a prosecutor harasses a local gay rights student leader for months.
All of this is only a sampling of the anti-gay attacks occurring around the nation, most of it drawn from just the last few months. Although the rash of student suicides drew major media attention for a few days, the reality, gay rights advocates say, is that the LGBT world has been plagued by hate violence for years.
But that’s not the way a hard core of the anti-gay religious right sees it.
Responding to the wave of teen suicides — including, most dramatically, that of 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University student who leaped off the George Washington Bridge in New York City in September — anti-gay leaders instead blamed those who sought to protect students from bullying.
Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association said gay rights activists “pressure these students to declare a disordered sexual preference when they’re too young to know better, [so] they share some culpability.” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, a key critic of anti-bullying programs, said gay activists were “exploiting these tragedies to push their agenda.” He said that gay kids may know “intuitively” that their desires are “abnormal” and that the claim, pushed by gay activists, that they can’t change “may create a sense of despair that can lead to suicide.” Matt Barber of Liberty Counsel said those activists want “to use the tragedies to increase pressure on the real victims: Christians.”
In fact, the chief target of these anti-gay ideologues — the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) — has been working to get protection from school bullying for a wide range of racial, religious and sexual minorities, not only LGBT students. It’s extremely hard to see how their efforts are exploitative, or how the “real” victims of bullying are Christians. GLSEN’s mission statement says that it “strives to assure that each member of every school community is valued.”
What’s more, bullying is only the beginning of the violence experienced by gays in American society. The reality is that homosexuals or perceived homosexuals are by far the group most targeted in America for violent hate crimes, according to an Intelligence Report analysis of 14 years of federal hate crime data. The bottom line: Gay people are more than twice as likely to be attacked in a violent hate crime as Jews or blacks; more than four times as likely as Muslims; and 14 times as likely as Latinos.
A Changing Landscape
Remarkably, most Americans today seem to have a sense of the violence that the LGBT community is regularly subjected to, or in any event are increasingly rejecting extreme religious-right narratives about the alleged evils of homosexuality. An October poll by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute found that 65% of Americans believe “places of worship contribute to higher rates of suicide among gay and lesbian youth” (33% said “a lot” and 32% said “a little”). Seventy-two percent said places of worship “contribute to negative views of gay and lesbian people” (40% said “a lot” and 32% said “a little”). (At the same time, the survey found that 44% of Americans still view same-sex relations as a sin.)