Everyday Hate: Violence Against Black and Latinx LGBT People
By Siobhan Brooks | July 26, 2023
The last decade has witnessed moments of startling legal progress for LGBT people and renewed, often deadly, attempts to stall that progress. In 2013 and 2015, the Supreme Court cleared the way for marriage equality in the U.S. At the same time, the mass shootings in LGBTQ nightclubs, such as the 2016 shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida and the 2022 shooting in Colorado Springs, CO, have rendered visible the entrenched homophobia and transphobia that fuels some violent crimes against LGBT people. However, these dramatic moments often cloud our vision of the far more pervasive, everyday forms of violence experienced by Black and Latinx LGBT people.
In my book, Everyday Violence Against Black and Latinx LGBT Communities, I analyze the implications of both mass violence and the notion of gay progress on the types of violence LGBT Black and Latinx people experience. While Pulse was an overt, premeditated form of physical violence, most violence against LGBT Black and Latinx people is institutionalized via laws and policies. Here too, we see a mix of legal progress and stagnation. For example, in 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII applies to LGBT people in the workplace, extending employment anti-discrimination law to LGBTQ people. However, in 2022, the Supreme Court also decided that they would not revisit the doctrine of qualified immunity, The doctrine of qualified immunity legally protects law enforcement when they use excessive force or abusive violence against marginalized communities, including LGBT people of color.
Policies, laws, and institutional practices in the realm of housing, healthcare, and education render LGBT Black and Latinx people vulnerable to violence. Economic marginality, housing insecurity, and involvement with the criminal legal system increase one’s likelihood of experiencing physical violence or assault.
In my book, I explored both physical and structural violence and resistance to this violence in the family, workplace, and institutions (health care, religious, and educational spaces). The family as an institution can be both supportive and oppressive for LGBT Black and Latino people, especially youth. Homeless LGBT youth of color make up a high percent of homeless youth, with 31% being Black and 14% identifying as Latino/a. Violence within families and communities can take the form of physical abuse, school bullying, gender policing (especially for transgender family members), withholding of resources, and indifference to anti-LGBT hate crimes. Family violence against LGBT youth of color contrasts with the marriage equality movement, which assumes that LGBT people have stable housing, health insurance, and wealth. My research underscores the need for policymakers to address the needs of LGBT youth, such as housing security and providing families with educational resources so they can support LGBT youth.
Hate Crimes and LGBT People of Color
LGBT Black and Latinx people experience high rates of hate crimes, but the criminal justice system has not always been a source of justice for them.
The FBI defines hate crimes as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” Some have championed hate crimes legislation as a sign of LGBT progress, but data collection on hate crimes by police disproportionately lists Black Americans as perpetrators, even though the majority of hate crimes are committed by whites. Enhanced penalties for hate crimes also don’t address the structural problems which contribute to hate crimes, but instead punish individual acts of violence.
Institutionalized discrimination is not deemed a hate crime, and this explains why the legal system has failed LGBT people of color facing violence. Indeed, hate crimes against LGBT Black and Latinx people are often not investigated or treated as hate crimes. For instance, Black trans teen Latisha King was murdered on Valentine’s Day in 2008 at E.O Green Middle School. Some people felt King deserved it for embarrassing the shooter, Brandon McInerney, when King asked Brandon to be their Valentine. In the King case, McInerney pled guilty to second degree murder and the hate crime charges were dropped. Zoraida Reyes, a 28-year-old Latina transgender woman, was found dead in a parking lot in June of 2014. Reyes was well-known in queer and immigrant communities fighting for the rights of undocumented trans and queer Latinx people. However, police and prosecutors did not pursue hate crime charges. The criminal legal system often fails to take seriously violence against LGBT people, even when such violence meets the definition of a hate crime.
Black and Latinx LGBT people may find themselves subject to legal charges following a hate attack. Cece McDonald, a Black trans woman, rose to national attention after serving time in prison for stabbing a man harassing her. Cece McDonald was engaged in an act of self-defense against a racist and transphobic group attack but was charged with second-degree murder and eventually accepted a plea bargain for manslaughter. These and other cases illustrate the way systemic, intersecting oppressions based on race, class, immigration status, and gender identity render trans women of color illegible subjects to mourn and defend. Structural barriers to housing, education, and employment also place transgender women of color in danger for physical violence and murder.
The legal system imagines violence against queer people of color as stranger violence, ignoring the fact that violence often happens in the intimate spheres of families and within religious, education, and healthcare systems.
Community Justice for LGBT Black and Latinx People
Black and Latinx queer people who have experienced hate crimes may be reluctant to relay on the state for assistance when the state fails to protect or even criminalizes them. Many queer Black and Latinx people do not trust police to assist them or take seriously reports of hate crimes. Black and Latinx LGBT people have often advocated for methods of holding perpetrators of hate crimes accountable that do not involve the prison industrial complex. For example, restorative justice models seek community accountability without reinforcing the carceral state. Community justice also entails addressing the housing crisis among poor and working-class communities of color across the United States. Housing precarity is rarely viewed as a form of state violence, although it can increase the risk of physical violence and negative health outcomes.
Education can be a means of reducing violence against queer people of color. Trans and non-conforming youth continue to be pushed out of families and schools and into homelessness and sometimes survival sex work. The inclusion of ethnic and queer studies in K-12 schools, changes to school dress codes, and adequate responses to bullying could reduce physical and structural violence.
Attacks on trans-affirming healthcare in conservative states are acts of state violence. Healthcare systems need to do more to train providers on how to best serve Black and Latinx LGBT populations and invest in mental health services for LGBT communities of color.
To end violence against LGBT Black and Latinx communities, we need to invest in a society that enhances our well-being by tackling everyday forms of violence.
Siobhan Brooks is Professor of African American Studies at California State University-Fullerton.
Photo credit: Istock.com/BrigithDavila