Are Anti-Gay Hate Crimes on the Rise in Rhode Island?
Though New York City has been plagued with a string of anti-gay attacks, Rhode Island has seen nine incidents of hate crimes committed against the LGBT community, according to 2012 statistics provided by the Rhode Island State Police.
In the past month, New York City has seen a spate of hate-fueled attacks on gay men, including the murder Mark Carson in Greenwich Village, one of Manhattan's most gay-friendly neighborhoods. The attacks have put the city's LGBT community on edge and have increased anxiety for communities around the nation.
Unfortunately, biased attacks against LGBT people are nothing new and are on the rise across the country, although other minority groups have seen a decrease in attacks. According to the FBI's "Hate Crime Report," the number of anti-gay crimes in the country rose to 1,256 in 2011 from 1,206 in 1996. The vast majority of those anti-gay hate crimes are against men. Meanwhile overall hate crime incidents have gone down nearly 30 percent since 1996.
Hate crime attacks targeting blacks, for example, have steadily decreased since 1996, falling 43 percent; the same goes for anti-Jewish incidents, which have gone down more than 30 percent.
LGBT advocates believe there is a backlash from straight society due to the recent passages of marriage equality in several states and other LGBT rights victories. Don Gorton, who has led the Anti-Violence Project of Massachusetts since 1994, believes the spotlight put on same-sex marriage as well as the progress made by gays and lesbians has triggered a wave of violence from those opposed to LGBT rights.
"There's a misperception [from police] that gays are accepted now," Gorton said. "That is simply false. The fact is gays and lesbians are getting more mainstream acceptance. To some extent we're getting equal rights, but there's a very recalcitrant segment of the population which remains very opposed to LGBT equality and very hostile to LGBT people as individuals."
Gorton estimates there may be as many as 100 million homophobic individuals in the U.S. and believes some are prone to commit violence acts against LGBT individuals.
"We know what the profile of offenders looks like, so a certain number of people who have hate will act out violently on the basis of that hate," Gorton said, noting the complacency which exists in police departments needs to be changed.
Gorton believes, however, those numbers need to be "taken with a grain of salt."
For the last 30 years, the Rhode Island Commission on Prejudice and Bias has been a major resource for hate crime trainings for law enforcement throughout the state. This includes recruits at the Rhode Island Municipal Police Training Academy, the Providence Police Training Academy, the State Police Training Academy and all local and university departments.
The program administrator, Dr. Jodi Glass, told EDGE the statistics for LGBT-related attacks are essentially unchanged from a decade ago
"The numbers still look the same," Glass said. "[Hate crimes] are still not being reported to the police."
Crimes that are most often reported are attacks committed against gay men, according to Glass. Gorton said LGBT advocacy groups need to raise awareness of hate crimes committed against the community. He added that in order to get more members of the LGBT community to report anti-gay hate crimes police officers must change the way they are perceived by the community.
Gorton said in order for the relationship between the LGBT community and law enforcement to be made stronger, there needs to be awareness building and training for the police so they "can be seen as allies, not adversaries."
Other LGBT activists believe the violence against the community will continue until the time comes when gays and lesbians are granted full equality under the law.
"Hate crimes happen when some people feel threatened by the simple personhood of others," said Kate Monteiro, co-chair of Marriage Equality Rhode Island. "They are brutal attempts to keep people ’in their place.’ Like racism, homophobia dies hard. But as more and more LGBT people come out, and as more and more our society in general recognizes us as just another ordinary flavor of humanity, hate crimes will diminish. Equality under the law is a necessity."
In Rhode Island, victims of domestic violence, hate crimes, and sexual assault can seek assistance from the Victims of Crime Helpline. Counselors and advocates are available 24 hours a day. The web site is http://www.dayoneri.org/crisisintervention.htm.