I live in Canada, which is sort of like saying I live with a bunch of relatively laid back folks. Jokes are made regularly at the expense of Canadians about how we are all so polite and kind and we sometimes even say thanks to ATMs when we receive cash from them.
As a Canadian, I know our nation tends not to have the significant issues with violence — particularly gun violence — that seems so prevalent in the United States. Whether that is because my nation’s population is about one-tenth of that of the United States, I’m not really sure. What I am sure of is this: Regardless of our population, North America has a significant issue with crimes against the LGBT community.
Whether we like to admit it or not, life as a member of the LGBT community can be incredibly dangerous — the shooting yesterday in Orlando, Florida is a stark, horrific reminder of just how much hatred is directed to that particular branch of society.
According to a research poll commissioned by National Post, roughly 1.7 percent to 5 percent of Canadians — that’s about 561,000 to 1.7 million people — identify as being some part of the LGBT community. This is not to say that all are disenfranchised, disengaged members of society; many are very fortunate to have loving friends and family who will do whatever they can to ensure that the person who is a member of the LGBT community continues to feel that support.
However, not everyone who identifies along the LGBT spectrum are that lucky. Among the homeless, according to the Homeless Hub, the LGBT community is overrepresented in North America, which puts them at danger of exposure to the elements and to things like addiction, malnourishment, and violence.
It’s been estimated that the LGBT youth population represents 25 to 40 percent of the homeless population, although that community as a whole only represents 5 percent of the Canadian population. That, in and of itself, is a staggering figure.
Egale Canada reports that hate crimes against the LGBT community are the most severe in Canada, and both the accused and the victims tend to fall under the 12- to 24-year-old demographic. The gunman identified in the Orlando shooting, which has now been identified as the worst in United States history, falls just outside that at 29, but hate takes a while to build and fester, just like an infection. It’s likely that the hate that consumed him to the point where he made the choice to open fire in a crowded nightclub began years ago.
According to the International Business Times, which cited an FBI report, while crimes against the LGBT community as a whole seemed to be dropping, crimes against those who identified as transgender were on the rise, at least in the United States. According to data collected from 2014, 18.6 percent of all hate crimes were motivated by sexual orientation. Gender identity accounted for 1.8 percent of attacks. Data from the year before showed that 20.3 percent of hate crimes were motivated by sexual orientation.
While this is the first significant act of violence on American soil in a gay nightclub — the last one was in a New Orleans nightclub in 1973, when an arsonist set fire to the UpStairs Lounge and killed 32 people within 20 minutes, according to Slate — violence against members of the LGBT population is not a new phenomenon worldwide. Crimes against those who identify as LGBT have been perpetrated in Uganda, Nigeria, and Syria, among other places, Slate says, and prior to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the law against the spreading of homosexual-oriented literature was particularly well covered. While it was deemed a law “For the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values,” activists the world over reacted, with some advocating for a boycott of the Olympics for that year.
Regardless of the form of violence, to deny that it is more dangerous to be a member of the LGBT community is to be truly blind to the violence and trauma those individuals face. Those who identify along the LGBT spectrum face hatred on a daily basis, and while so many may pretend that they are part of a more enlightened mindset or claim to understand gender and sexual “norms” better than most because they took a course in university or college, hateful rhetoric against members of the LGBT community affects us all. If we want to truly put an end to the intolerance and the prejudice that plagues 21st century society — and make no mistake, it is a plague, whether we are talking about homophobia or the racism that is still prevalent today — we need to look at each other as people trying to make a positive difference, no different than anyone else.
It’s okay to acknowledge our differences, but why not embrace them as puzzle pieces missing from our own makeup rather than with disdain? The danger that continues to face some members of the LGBT community has to end, as it does for those of members of different races or religions.
As Jamie Lee Curtis said in her children’s book, Is There Really a Human Race?, “Shouldn’t it be looking back at the end that you judge your own race by the help that you lend? So, take what’s inside you and make big, bold choices, And for those who can’t speak for themselves, use bold voices. And make friends and love well, bring art to this place And make the world better for the whole human race.”
[Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images]