Many of the early reports and responses to the mass-casualty shooting at Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub decry the tragedy as one fueled by anti-LGBTQ hate, or as murders committed by an ISIS sympathizer. With the news that the perpetrator reportedly attended the club on several occasions, and even may have used gay dating apps, internalized fear and hatred of LGBTQ people may even come into the fore. Indeed, these issues aren’t mutually exclusive and are important areas of focus while trying to make sense of a senseless crime.
But there’s another facet of this incident that cannot be overlooked: the shooting occurred during Pulse’s Latin music night, and the vast majority of the victims were black and Latinx (the gender-neutral form of the adjective) people.
This aspect of the tragedy in Orlando unfortunately mirrors a larger issue: anti-LGBTQ violence has a disproportionate impact on black and brown people.
As noted by Rob Wile at Fusion, data from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs’s latest (2014) report shows that people of color are vastly overrepresented among victims of anti-LGBT violence. Forty-three percent of survivors of anti-LGBTQ violence identified as Latinx, while the group as a whole makes up just 17 percent of the U.S. population. African-Americans make up 23 percent of said survivors, despite representing roughly 13 percent of the general population. The coalition estimates that the rates could be even higher, when cuts to antiviolence programs that support survivors are factored in.
Yet in recent years, most news reports about violence against LGBTQ people have come at the expense of black or Latinx people, especially those who are transgender or gender nonconforming. As noted by the National LGBTQ Task Force, of the roughly two dozen trans women and gender-nonconforming people who were murdered by the fall of 2015, the majority of them were black or Latinx.
And in some cases, police don’t respond properly to these hate-motivated crimes. In fact, some survivors get charged with felonies for defending themselves.
Here in Chicago, Eisha Love and Tiffany Gooden were attacked in March 2012 during an altercation at a gas station in the Austin neighborhood. As the Windy City Times reported, both Love and Gooden were black trans women, and the physical and verbal attacks against them were transphobic in nature. Love, now 26, used her vehicle to run into her attacker—reportedly an act of self-defense. She spent almost four years in jail while awaiting trial and was released last December, after accepting a plea deal for a single felony count of aggravated battery on a public way. In August 2012, 19-year-old Gooden was found murdered in an abandoned South Austin building.
Whether it’s Orlando or Chicago, it’s important to remember that many LGBTQ victims and survivors endure the constant threat of psychic and physical harm that comes with facing multiple forms of marginalization. In addition to being members of the LGBTQ community, they must face social settings, institutions, and systems of power that expose them to disproportionate harm as people of color. Gun violence represents one such deadly threat to their ability to live openly and freely.