I heard a story of a young, Black, transgender women who was brutally murdered, just last month in fact, in Maryland. Crystal Edmonds was only 32 years old. Black transgender/gender non-conforming persons are at higher risk of violence (from anti-LGBTQ+ persons) than any other group. In general, there has been a long history of violence against members identifying as LGBTQ+. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs of those who identify as lesbian or gay, 20-25% “experience hate crimes within their lifetime”.
So, why is a heterosexual, woman such as myself writing about this issue? A year ago I studied abroad in The Netherlands. I spent a number of hours at the Dutch National Police Academy, and listened as they elaborated on the issues that their LGBTQ+ community experiences, and what’s being done about it. I was surprised to learn of the ways their police department was working in the community to bring justice to the LGBTQ+ community as well as creating a comfortable atmosphere for reporting for its members. I was intrigued to take a closer look at our home community of Harrisonburg to learn more about what our police department was doing to create a safe place for our LGBTQ+ community.
To my surprise it was incredibly difficult to find information on police responses to the LGBTQ+ community here in Harrisonburg. I started with an email to the Shenandoah Valley Pride Alliance. I received no response. Upon calling the Harrisonburg Police Department, looking to speak with someone who works with or is a liaison to this community, no one was able to answer my questions, nor aware of whom to specifically direct my call to.
This is a problem in itself. While it may be perceived that the “quiet” town of Harrisonburg doesn’t experience any LGBTQ+ issues, the real issue might be that there isn’t a place to bring these issues to light. This also reflects higher institutional problems within our society. To name a few
- Hate crime laws in Virginia are only based on “race, religion, and ethnic origin” but not on the ways that people identify sexually or according to gender preference.
- The lack of the number of laws preventing discrimination in a number of areas for LGBTQ+ persons, inevitably makes any kind of reporting impossible.
- The Equality Act of 2015 has yet to be passed.
With a growing acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community in the U.S. there is still necessary growth that needs to take place. One group of people cannot expect to live enjoying all their freedoms, yet other people cannot—are they not human beings also? Here are some constructive ways that you can be more mindful of this community, perpetuating acceptance of the people of this group, rather than violence and hate:
- Push for police reform in the area. Are the police in your community effective in helping the LGBTQ+ community? Does there need to be better representation?
- Push for legislation that supports persons of the LGBTQ+ community being treated like human beings, rather than “other” (Ex. Healthcare services, discrimination in employment, bullying of students).
- If you only identify as heterosexual, educate yourself on the issues of violence of other gender and sexual orientation identifying groups, not exclusively your own.
- Get to know (reach out to) members of other gender or sexual identifying groups. Listen to survivor stories. Ask how you can better support this group.
- Speak out against hate, and speak up when hate is being displayed.
- Don’t underestimate the problems LGBTQ+ persons face.