2010 brought what was reported as a "spike" in bias incidents against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) and HIV/AIDS-affected people in New York City. As organizations who work day-to-day with LGBTQ we know that anti-LGBTQ violence has not suddenly increased, but has been rising steadily for decades: LGBTQ people face violence every day. What we did see in 2010 was a spike in the severity of violence that LGBTQ people face, more virulent hate speech from "community leaders," more media attention to LGBTQ youth suicides and violent homophobic attacks in Staten Island, the Bronx, Chelsea and the West Village, and more reports of the dangers that LGBTQ youth face in school.
We also saw an increase in contributing factors: As LGBTQ youth and adults felt the effects of the depressed economy, there were increased demands for critical basic services, such as a hot meal, clothing and shelter. These issues were worsened by the vulnerability LGBTQ people experience due to discrimination within public service institutions that should provide safety nets.
The bullying, suicides and hate violence that received so much media attention in 2010 are part of a spectrum of violence that LGBTQ people face throughout the country. While LGBTQ youth and adults are targets of hate-based violence, they also face discrimination from law enforcement and first providers, and isolation within the education system. The violence we saw in 2010 is the inevitable consequence of homophobia and transphobia that results in families rejecting their children for being LGBTQ, school administrators turning a blind eye to bullying and people being attacked on the streets because they are perceived to be LGBTQ.
Violence against LGBTQ people also intersects with racist, classist and anti-immigrant violence that many people experience because of their identities as people of color, poor people, homeless people, immigrants, people with disabilities and people living with HIV/AIDS. As such, we know that we cannot address anti-LGBTQ violence without also addressing racial and economic justice issues. Without safe and supportive environments, LGBTQ people are disproportionately vulnerable to poverty, hunger and homelessness, their health and well-being is compromised and many youth and adults see no other choice but to take their own lives.
We have worked hard to address these complex and intersecting forms of violence and those most affected are doing powerful and inspiring work to create safety. And at the end of this year our organizations have come together to celebrate the strength of the LGBTQ community and to fight for safety for us all. LGBTQ people and their allies are working to create safety and support for themselves. LGBTQ youth are organizing to stop bullying in schools and violence and harassment in their neighborhoods. Community organizing in the Boroughs has resulted in Town Hall meetings and strategies to prevent hate violence. LGBTQ youth and adults are fighting for safe spaces, respect and inclusions throughout the city, as well as funding for vital LGBTQ services to be reinstated in the communities where LGBTQ people feel safest. There have been victories, such as Governor Paterson’s Executive Order prohibiting employment discrimination against transgender people, the NYS Legislature’s passing of the Dignity for All Students act, and Mayor Bloomberg’s proclamation of "LGBTQ Youth Empowerment Month" in October 2010. We continue to collaborate, advocate and organize within our families and neighborhoods to end hate violence and create the inclusion, safety and resources that LGBTQ youth and adults need.
But, we cannot do this work alone. 2010 has also brought with it unthinkable cuts to vital institutions serving the LGBTQ community. Our organizations have been struggling with decreasing funding. We each work to provide support and safe space for LGBTQ youth and adults when they have nowhere else to go. But dozens of LGBTQ-focused crisis services have been cut in the past two years. Now, these services are threatened with further cuts. These funding cuts will inevitably increase the rate of LGBTQ homelessness and suicides, and deteriorate the already fragile safety nets LGBTQ people rely on.
At the end of 2010 we ask this of all New Yorkers: join us in our work to end hate violence and create safe spaces for LGBTQ people. We and friends and family, allies and supporters, educators and faith leaders, policy makers and politicians together have the responsibility and power to stop the violence. Every New Yorker has a responsibility to recognize and respond to this violence and to prevent the very real harm it does. Together, we can insist that LGBTQ organizations have the resources to keep LGBTQ people safe from harm. We are determined to make 2011 a safer and healthier year for LGBTQ people — please join us.
Sharon Stapel is the Executive Director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project and Ash Hammond is the Development Coordinator for FIERCE. This post is written in conjunction with the Ali Forney Center, Audre Lorde Project, Bronx Community Pride Center, FIERCE, Gay Men of African Descent, GLSEN, GMHC, Hetrick-Martin Institute, Make the Road NY, New York City Anti-Violence Project, NYC LGBT Center, Queers for Economic Justice, Sylvia Rivera Law Project, and The Trevor Project