Gun violence is an LGBTQ+ issue.
That’s the message of a report released today, the fourth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, by the Human Rights Campaign, the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, and Equality Florida. The shooting, in which 49 people were killed and 53 wounded at the Orlando club, was the deadliest anti-LGBTQ+ crime in U.S. history and the deadliest mass shooting overall in the nation up to that point; in the latter category, it was surpassed by the mass shooting at a music festival in Las Vegas in 2018, which took 58 lives.
The report, titled Remembering and Honoring Pulse: Anti-LGBTQ Bias and Guns Are Taking Lives of Countless LGBTQ People, looks at the relationship between firearms and hate crimes, suicide, and intimate partner violence, and the ways in which LGBTQ+ Americans are disproportionately affected by gun violence. The organizations call the report “the most substantive synthesis of data related to the impact of gun violence on the LGBTQ community to date.”
It notes that there are more than 10,000 bias-motivated crimes involving a firearm in the U.S. each year, equating to 28 each day. Reported hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people are on the rise in the nation; in 2018, they were up 11 percent from the previous year, and those motivated by a victim’s gender identity were up 41 percent. Also, anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups are becoming more numerous; the Southern Poverty Law Center found that in 2019, the number of these groups increased 43 percent from the previous year.
“It’s not only the LGBTQ community that is affected by hate-fueled violence,” the report continues. “Bias-motivated crimes based on race, religion, nationality, disability and gender remain at troublingly high levels and LGBTQ people hold many of these identities as well.” Nearly half of racially motivated crimes are against Black Americans, while bias crimes against Latinx people are increasing. Crimes based on religious bias are decreasing but are still taking place, with the majority of them against Jewish people and institutions.
On the role of guns, the report points out, “The gun homicide rate in the United States is 25 times higher than that of other high-income countries. Our country’s gun violence epidemic has taken an enormous toll on the LGBTQ community. From the Pulse shooting in Orlando in 2016, to youth suicides and anti-trans violence across the country, our community has suffered terribly as a result of our nation’s inadequate gun safety laws.”
For instance, of the 80 homicides of transgender and gender-nonconforming people in the U.S. from 2017 through 2019, three-fourths involved a gun, according to Everytown’s Transgender Homicide Tracker. Among trans Americans, Black trans women are most frequently the victims of gun violence.
Guns are also a major factor in suicide. “Ninety percent of suicide attempts with a gun are fatal, while only 4 percent of attempts not involving a gun are fatal,” the report notes. And LGBTQ+ people are at higher risk for suicide than others. Forty percent of trans Americans report having attempted suicide at some point, nearly nine times the national average, while 20 percent of LGBTQ+ youth have attempted suicide, compared to 6 percent of those who are heterosexual and cisgender. “These data imply that this epidemic of firearm suicide could have a disproportionate impact on transgender and adolescent members of the LGBTQ community,” the report’s authors state.
Intimate partner violence is another concern. Studies indicate that more than half of trans people experience some form of intimate partner violence, while “44 percent of lesbians and 61 percent of bisexual women experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 35 percent of straight women,” according to the report. LGBTQ+ youth experience dating violence at twice the rate of their straight and cis peers. And access to fireams increases the risk that violence will be lethal, with one study finding that victims of intimate partner violence are five times more likely to be killed if their abuser has access to a gun.
To address the problem, the groups recommend several steps. One is for Congress to pass the Disarm Hate Act, which would prohibit gun sales to anyone who has been convicted of a misdemeanor-level hate crime or received an enhanced hate-crime sentence for a misdemeanor. Such sales are banned in some states but not nationwide.
They also call on Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, as the latest reauthorization bill would close several loopholes, such as one allowing gun purchases by those who have been convicted or partner abuse or are under a restraining order. Additionally, Congress should limit access to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and appropriate at least $25 million annually for the Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health to conduct research on gun violence, the authors write.
There is much support for such moves in the LGBTQ+ community. Banning assault weapons “needs to be a pinpoint” of gun regulation, LaSaia Wade, founder and executive director of Brave Space Alliance, a Black-led, trans-led LGBTQ+ group in Chicago, told The Advocate in a phone interview. “What do you need an AK-47 for?” she said. “What do you need a grenade launcher for?” She also supports expanded background checks and other reforms.
Additionally, there needs to be an in-depth conversation about how patriarchal values and “fragile masculinity” contribute to gun violence, Wade said. “Gun violence has always been an issue within the LGBTQ community,” she added.
The organizations behind the report hope that message gets across to anyone who’s not already on board. “Gun safety is an LGBTQ issue, plain and simple,” Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in the press release announcing the report. “From the tragedy at Pulse nightclub four years ago, to the dozens of transgender and gender-nonconforming people killed by firearms over the last decade, our community is under attack and needs reform to improve our well-being. This report outlines the problem at hand and provides strong recommendations for helping build a better, safer future for our community, one that is free from gun violence.”
“For some LGBTQ individuals, the horrific Pulse nightclub shooting was the first time they grappled with the impact of gun violence on their community,” Sheila E. Isong, Giffords engagement director, said in the release. “Tragically, it shattered the lives of many others well before. Violent hate hasn’t gone away; for some community members, like transgender Black women, it’s become an even greater threat. LGBTQ voices are an essential part of the growing calls for Congress to act to make our country safer.”
“Fifty-one years after a Black trans woman led an uprising against police discrimination and violence at the Stonewall Inn, the LGBTQ community — and especially trans people of color — are still the targets of hate-fueled violence, which often involves a gun,” added John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “This year, Everytown renews our commitment to disarming hate and pushing federal lawmakers to close the giant loophole that allows people convicted of violent or threatening hate crimes to buy guns.”