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Anti-LGBT Hate Crimes Rise, But So Does Reporting

by Peter Cassels
Contributor
Tuesday Jun 5, 2012
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Hate crimes committed against LGBTs in the United States and Puerto Rico in 2011 included 30 murders, the highest number ever recorded by a coalition of anti-violence organizations. The deaths, an 11 percent increase from 2010 (when there were 27), were among statistics in an annual report the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs issued on May 31. But in New England -- where none of the reported murders occurred -- increased reporting is beginning to address the problem.

Among the organizations and programs providing input is the Boston-based Violence Recovery Program at Fenway Health.

"The increase of reports in Boston is a direct result of the outreach that’s been done," said Amanda Escamilla, a VRP advocate and counselor. That includes more collaboration with the police, communities of color and other anti-violence groups.

The most vulnerable groups experiencing physical violence are transgender persons, people of color and LGBTs between the ages of 18 and 30. The program documented 26 cases of anti-LGBT hate violence, a 13 percent increase from 2010, when there were 23.

In an interview with EDGE, Escamilla attributed the increase in incidents to better reporting methods resulting from even closer cooperation with law enforcement and organizations dealing with the LGBT community.

VRP provides a host of services that include counseling, support groups, advocacy and referrals to LGBT victims of hate crime, domestic violence, sexual assault and police misconduct.

Unlike many other states, Massachusetts has laws and policies in place that protect LGBTs and create a supportive environment, she reported.

Escamilla cited the Boston Police Department’s long-standing Civil Rights Unit and the Boston Regional Intelligence Center as examples of her program’s close cooperation with law enforcement.

During the last two years, the VRP assembled a community working group that works with police and other public officials to better examine how hate crimes are investigated, Escamilla said.

Fenway Health recently received a grant from the U.S. Justice Department that will allow the VRP to work with other local organizations, such as the Hispanic Black Gay Coalition, The Network/LaRed and Renewal House, which works with immigrants to increase services to communities of color who may identify as LGBT.

"We realize that services they receive in white-dominated environments where services are created without community input creates a feeling of alienation for people of color," Escamilla said.

Overcoming Issues of Trust for Trans Women

Two groups were affected disproportionately: 87 percent of the 2011 murder victims were people of color and 40 percent were transgender women. The report shows a 16 percent decrease in hate violence incidents, but the figure likely doesn’t reflect the actual number, because such crimes are often under reported, according to the NCAVP.

"We feel strongly that we have not captured it all," said Chai Jindasurat of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, during a telephone conference call. "Many trans murders are not reported. This is the tip of the iceberg." The number of murders represents only those reported to the NCAVP or by the media.

The VRP also is trying to overcome the issue of trust that affects others in the LGBT community, such as transgender people.

"The increase of reports in Boston is a direct result of the outreach that’s been done," said Amanda Escamilla, a VRP advocate and counselor. That includes more collaboration with the police, communities of color and anti-violence groups.

"The trans community historically has less trust of officials and law enforcement," Escamilla explained. "We are doing specific kinds of outreach to them and work with police and other providers in the city and state to bring greater understanding."

Transgender people often have to deal with rejection, homelessness and a lack of public understanding of their issues.

Paige Dior, a trans woman whose father was baseball Hall of Fame player Satchel Paige, was among those who spoke during the NCAVP news media teleconference.

Dior described her reaction to the death of DeeDee Pearson, an African-American transgender woman killed in Kansas City, Mo., last year.

"It was devastating losing DeeDee," said Dior, who said she was a good friend.

"Many transgender people are rejected by their families, so we form our own families," he continued. "DeeDee was a trans ’daughter’ of mine and I looked at her as my own. She led a street life because she had no place else to go."

Pearson was murdered last Christmas Eve by a man who shot her six times after he discovered she was a trans woman. Police arrested Kenyan Jones as the suspect shortly after they arrived at the scene.

Dior also told her personal story.

"My childhood experiences were difficult because I was born into an athletic family," she related. "Being born as a man, my expectations were set very, very high. It made me suicidal and I suffered a lot of psychological problems."

"I had to go out and fend for myself," Dior continued. "I’ve been shot at, kidnapped and have had no place to go."

She described what happened when she went to a clinic for an appointment with a heart specialist: "The security guards beat me up, threw me out and called the police. They said I was dressed inappropriately."

Another teleconference speaker was Jake Finney of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center Anti-Violence Project. He said bias crimes, such as those that occur in homeless shelters, "strike fear in the trans community."

Finney reported that the LAPD just released trans guidelines and policies that are precedent-setting. "We provide transgender training to the department. Thus far, more than 1,000 officers have been trained."

The NCAVP report contains recommendations such as increasing funding for anti-violence support and prevention and ending police profiling and police violence against LGBTs.

The recommendations also include ending the root causes of violence by reducing poverty and passing more anti-discrimination laws to protect sexual orientation and gender identity.

Peter Cassels is a recipient of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association’s Excellence in Journalism award. His e-mail address is pcassels@edgepublications.com.

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