In the wake of last Sunday’s tragedy, wherein 49 people were murdered at a Latinx Night in an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in a violent attack that left more than another 53 people injured, the question that so many people beg the answer for is “Why?”
As the attacker was shot and killed by police, we cannot ask him what his motivations were, and speculating on the thoughts of a dead man is a dangerous proposition, as he cannot address any assumptions made.
I can’t speak to the individual who perpetrated the attack’s motives. I won’t speculate on the affiliations or beliefs that this individual held, as they are not relevant, and making misinformed assumptions about persons’ identities and beliefs contributed to this attack in the first place. I will, however attempt to speak, in part, to the larger culture wherein this violent attack occurred, and how this larger culture, contributed to this tragedy.
What is clear is that this is an act of violence that clearly targeted the LGBTQ community, and specifically Latinx persons in the LGBTQ community. Communities of color and ethnic minorities in the LGBTQ community are disproportionately subject to anti-LGBTQ violence, and the tragedy that occurred on Sunday morning is a gross and shocking example of this.
Persons of color were those on our continent first subject to erasure and systemized marginalization as a result of European colonialism and xenophobia. The first nations that existed in North, Central and South America have largely been erased through genocide and systemic oppression. Those individuals who survived or escaped genocide by capture or forced submission were enslaved or interred. Additional persons of color from around the world were murdered, enslaved, and exploited for European and American capitalism.
LGBTQ identities are consistently marginalized and rendered invisible in larger dialogue. Queer identities, gender-non-conforming and transgender individuals are particularly subject to marginalization and erasure. By definition, something that is queer challenges the perception of normalcy and the status quo – – queerness is a curiosity, a transfiguration. To be queer in a society that venerates heteronormativity is an act of personal and political revolution, one that is met with discrimination, violence, and systemic oppression.
Despite a popular culture that waxes poetic about equality, rights, and justice, our country’s legal system and politics speak to a grim reality. The United States only denounced racial segregation in public schools as unjust in the case of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. The Civil Rights Act was only enacted 52 years ago in 1964, Title VII of which “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” And, it wasn’t until October of 2009 that crimes committed “… where the commission of such offense ‘evidences prejudice based on… sexual orientation… of the victim.’” were classified as Hate Crimes under Federal Law. “According to the Florida Attorney General, hate crimes based on sexual orientation currently account for 22 percent of all hate crimes, surpassing religion as the second highest category. Race is still the most common motivation. When taking into account the size of the targeted communities, LGBT Floridians are at the highest risk of being targeted with a hate crime.” The fact that the attack in Orlando on Sunday, June 12th targeted a group of people whose identities intersect as members of a racial minority and that of a minority sexual orientation speaks to the prevalence of how vulnerable multiply marginalized persons are to violent hate crimes.
Based on a 2010 survey by Pew Research Center, 84 percent of Latinx persons cited discrimination against Latinx persons as a problem, with 61 percent of those respondents noting that it was a ‘major problem’; these figures represented an increase from a survey conducted in 2007, wherein only 78 percent cited it as a problem and only 54 percent felt it was a ‘major problem.’ This represents an increase in discriminatory attitudes and behavior by larger society towards Latinos. Additionally, according to another Pew Research Report, Latinx persons “are the second most discriminated against racial minority in the United States, after African Americans.”
While Title VII protects individuals’ workplace rights based on ethnicity, “There is currently no federal statute prohibiting private sector sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace.” No federal statute prohibits discrimination against employees based on gender identity. While some states have adopted laws that offer employment or housing protection for LGB individuals, Florida, as a state, is not among them; even fewer states have adopted laws that offer employment or housing protection to transgender individuals. Though some cities and municipalities in Florida have adopted anti-discrimination policies that prohibit discrimination against some LGBTQ persons, Equality Florida Action, Incl., reports that more than 53 percent of Florida citizens inhabit places where they can be denied housing or employment based on their sexuality.
In 2013, the Pew Research Center released a comprehensive national survey of LGBTQ Americans reporting on experiences of societal perceptions of LGBTQ identities. The survey “offers testimony to the many ways [LGBTQ persons have] have been stigmatized by society…. (39%) say that at some point in their lives they were rejected by a family member or close friend because of their sexual orientation or gender identity; 30% say they have been physically attacked or threatened; 29% say they have been made to feel unwelcome in a place of worship; and 21% say they have been treated unfairly by an employer. About six-in-ten (58%) say they’ve been the target of slurs or jokes.” While many of these incidents were not reported as criminal offenses, they represent a pervasive pattern of discriminatory and harmful behavior rooted in homophobia and transphobia that deny the dignity of LGBTQ persons.
Another research survey, conducted by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation investigated ways in which LGBTQ persons’ access to and experience of health care in the United States differed from that of non-LGBTQ persons. Their reporting notes that:
Health is shaped by a host of social, economic, and structural factors. For LGBT individuals, these factors include the experience and impact of discrimination, stigma, and ostracism which affect health outcomes, access, and experience with health care. Research available to date finds that while sexual and gender minorities have many of the same health concerns as the general population, they experience some health challenges at higher rates, and face several unique health challenges.
Additionally, “bias and discrimination in the health care system have been… unfortunate … In addition to provider level discrimination… some policies in the insurance and financing system have disproportionately affected LGBT people, including pre-existing condition clauses permitting plans to deny insurance to people with conditions such as HIV, mental illness, or to transgender individuals….”. Without adequate access to proper health care, LGBTQ persons are further disadvantaged in relation to non-LGBTQ citizens – – as LGBTQ persons are more likely to suffer from mental illness, substance abuse issues, and other chronic health problems. This is compounded by the fact that many LGBTQ persons – especially transgender and gender-nonconforming persons – are less likely to have stable employment or sources of income. These factors magnify the marginalization of LGBTQ persons and put them at risk for further health problems, economic instability, subjecting them to additional social stigmatization.
These factors combine to develop a portrait of a country that does not afford LGBTQ persons the same legal rights as non-LGBTQ persons. When a minority group of persons is not afforded the same rights as the majority, it represents not only that society does not value the rights of the minority, but that persons are not accountable to their government for upholding the rights of the minority. This is the basis of systemic injustice: wherein an imbalance in a legal or social system causes a mutual ripple effect across both legal and social spheres in a state. These echo chambers of law, policy and legislation, and social stigmatization and behavior have marginalized the LGBTQ community, and symbolize a state that enables widespread intolerance, fear, and hate against LGBTQ persons.
While the existence of anti-discrimination law and policy does not necessarily change societal attitudes towards minority persons, they are a powerful symbol of a legal system that values and commits to protecting the rights of all persons equally. With these laws and protections lacking in the United States, one cannot state that this is a country that truly seeks to uphold the rights of LGBTQ persons as equal to those of non-LGBTQ persons.
It is a dangerous assumption, however, to believe that by simply passing laws that would enable the protection of a marginalized group that all persons will ultimately abide by them. The United States has seen this clearly through it’s history of systemic racism. Though the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, persons of color are still subject to widespread discrimination and inequality; however, the passing of the Civil Rights Act at the very least represented that the United States Government recognized that person of color were deserving of the same protections as non-racialized persons in the United States. By failing to pass an amendment to the Civil Rights Act or other legislation that would protect the rights of LGBTQ persons, the United States Government denies the fact that LGBTQ persons are deserving of the same protections as non-LGBTQ persons.
The perpetration of these systems of injustice and inequality that ultimately contributed to a society wherein a marginalized group became the target of a violent hate crime. The perpetuation of these systems of injustice and inequality oppress already marginalized minority communities further. As a nation and as a society, if we believe in the equal rights of all people, we need to mobilize towards the creation, enactment and enforcement of laws and policies that protect the rights of minority persons and groups: Without this action, any talk about equality is simply noise.
 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “Federal Laws Prohibiting Job Discrimination Questions And Answers.” Accessed 6/16/2016. https://www.eeoc.gov/facts/qanda.html
 Equality Florida Action, Inc. “Florida Hate Crimes.” Accessed 6/16/2016. http://www.eqfl.org/node/11
 Obama Signs Hate Crimes Bill. Accessed 6/16/2016. http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/28/obama-signs-hate-crimes-bill/?_r=0
 Equality Florida Action, Inc. “Hate Crimes.” Accessed 6/16/2016. http://www.eqfl.org/Hate_Crimes
 Pew Research Center. “Hispanic Trends.” Accessed 6/16/2016. http://www.pewresearch.org/daily-number/hispanics-targets-of-discrimination/http://www.pewhispanic.org/2010/10/28/illegal-immigration-backlash-worries-divides-latinos/
 Pew Research Center. “Hispanics: Targets of Discrimination.” Accessed 6/16/2016. http://www.pewresearch.org/daily-number/hispanics-targets-of-discrimination/
 FindLaw.com, “Employment Discrimination.” http://employment.findlaw.com/employment-discrimination/sexual-orientation-discrimination-in-the-workplace.html
 A Survey of LGBT Americans. Pew Research Center. Accessed 6/16/2016. http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/06/13/a-survey-of-lgbt-americans/
 Health and Access to Care and Coverage for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Individuals in the U.S. “Health Challenges.” The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Accessed 6/16/2016. http://kff.org/report-section/health-and-access-to-care-and-coverage-for-lesbian-gay-bisexual-and-transgender-health-challenges/
 Health and Access to Care and Coverage for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Individuals in the U.S. “Impact of Changes in the Legal and Policy Landscape on Coverage and Access to Care.” The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Accessed 6/16/2016. http://kff.org/report-section/health-and-access-to-care-and-coverage-for-lesbian-gay-bisexual-and-transgender-impact-of-changes-in-the-legal-and-policy-landscape-on-coverage-and-access-to-care/