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Remembering and Honoring Pulse

Anti-LGBTQ+ Bias and Guns are Taking Lives of Countless LGBTQ+ People

6.12.2020

Last Updated: 10.11.2022

A memorial outside of Pulse nightclub
FILE - In this July 11, 2016, file photo, a makeshift memorial continues to grow outside the Pulse nightclub, the day before the one month anniversary of a mass shooting, in Orlando, Fla. Survivors and victims’ relatives are marking the second anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting with a remembrance ceremony, a run, art exhibits and litigation. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

Introduction

On June 12, 2016, a man fatally shot 49 people and wounded 53 more at Pulse, an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Orlando, Florida.33Alicia Melville-Smith et al., “A Shooting at a Gay Nightclub in Orlando Killed 49 People,” BuzzFeed News, June 21, 2016, https://bit.ly/2OqlfKp. The victims, primarily LGBTQ+ and Latinx, were senselessly killed in what was supposed to be a safe space while celebrating their shared identity and Pride month. This horrific tragedy changed the queer Latinx and broader LGBTQ+ communities forever, catalyzing the movement to unite behind gun violence prevention. Pulse is a reminder of the work that remains to end the acts of gun violence that wound and kill LGBTQ+ Americans today.

As the nation marks six years since this tragedy, we must never lose sight of the unfulfilled hopes and the families shattered in this preventable act of mass murder. The thousands more killed by gun violence since Pulse underscore the glaring failure of our elected officials to take commonsense steps to combat the scourge of gun violence that plagues our nation. Advocates and people across this country must remain as resolved as ever to honor those killed, with action and work to ensure that all of us may live safe from violence.

Hate, Violence, and Stigma against the LGBTQ+ Community

Bias-motivated crimes are a real, frightening problem in the United States, and LGBTQ+ people continue to be targeted because of who they are. The Southern Poverty Law Center found that the number of anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups increased by 43 percent from 2018 to 2019.1Southern Poverty Law Center, “The Year in Hate and Extremism 2019,” March 18, 2020, https://www.splcenter.org/news/2020/03/18/year-hate-and-extremism-2019. Following a slight decline in 2020, the number was unchanged in 2021, with 65 groups focused on anti-LGBTQ+ legislative priorities.2Southern Poverty Law Center, “Hate Map,” accessed June 2, 2022, https://www.splcenter.org/hate-map?ideology=anti-lgbt. Hate is far more deadly when armed with a gun.

25k+

In an average year, more than 25,000 hate crimes in the US involve a firearm—69 a day.  

Everytown analysis of the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). A yearly average was developed using 12 years of the most recently available data: 2010 to 2021.

On an average day there are 69 hate crimes with a firearm, accounting for 4 percent of all hate crimes.3Everytown analysis of the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). A yearly average was developed using 11 years of the most recently available data: 2010 to 2021. During this period, there were 6,668,159 hate crimes, 276,308 of which involved a firearm.

It’s not only the LGBTQ+ community that is affected by hate-fueled violence. Bias-motivated crimes based on race, religion, nationality, disability, and gender remain at troublingly high levels, and LGBTQ+ people hold many of these identities as well.

In June 2015, a white supremacist opened fire at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine Black worshippers.4Jason Horowitz, Nick Corasaniti, and Ashley Southall, “Nine Killed in Shooting at Black Church in Charleston,” New York Times, June 17, 2015, https://nyti.ms/2uGcqDb. In October 2018, a gunman who had expressed anti-Semitic and white supremacist views attacked worshippers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with an assault-style rifle and other firearms, murdering 11 people and wounding at least six others.5Trip Gabriel, Jack Healy, and Julie Turkewitz, “Pittsburgh Synagogue Massacre Suspect Was ‘Pretty Much a Ghost,’” New York Times, October 28, 2018, https://nyti.ms/3akbpsv. In April 2019, an anti-Semitic gunman opened fire at a synagogue in Poway, California, killing one worshipper and wounding three others.6“Poway Attack Illustrates Danger Right-Wing Extremists Pose to Jews, Muslims,” Anti-Defamation League, May 2, 2019, https://bit.ly/3z33hn2. In August 2019, a white nationalist drove 10 hours to a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, where he killed 23 people and wounded 23 others.7John Eligon, “The El Paso Screed, and the Racist Doctrine behind It,” New York Times, August 7, 2019, https://nyti.ms/3raDRBr; Yasmeen Abutaleb, “What’s Inside the Hate-Filled Manifesto Linked to the Alleged El Paso Shooter,” Washington Post, August 4, 2019, https://wapo.st/3McPb8P. Most recently, in May 2022, hateful racism against Black people motivated a mass shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, resulting in 13 people shot, 10 fatally.8Mark Morales, “Buffalo Mass Shooting Suspect to Be Arraigned Thursday on 25 Counts, including Murder,” CNN, June 2, 2022, https://cnn.it/3tcFO2o.

But too many tragedies don’t get the attention and action they should. LGBTQ+ youth are also more likely than non-LGBTQ+ youth to experience bias-motivated violence that involves weapons during childhood and adolescence. Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) analysis of public-use data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) found that while 6 percent of non-LGBTQ youth have been threatened or injured with a weapon on school property, 17 percent of LGBTQ youth, 29 percent of transgender youth, and 30 percent of questioning youth had experienced these offenses.9Human Rights Campaign Foundation, “LGBTQ Youth Are Living in Crisis: Key Findings from HRC Foundation Analysis of CDC Data,” 2020, https://bit.ly/3xcc5cn

Percentage of Youth Threatened or Injured with a Weapon on School Property

Across different LGBTQ+ populations, the risk for violence is higher than in straight and cisgender populations. Lesbian and gay people are more than twice as likely to experience violent victimization as straight people. Transgender people are 2.5 times as likely to be victims of violence as cisgender people. And, bisexual people were seven times as likely to experience violent victimization as straight people.10Jennifer L. Truman and Rachel E. Morgan, “Violent Victimization by Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, 2017–2020,” Bureau of Justice Statistics, June 2022, https://bjs.ojp.gov/content/pub/pdf/vvsogi1720.pdf.

The harm and trauma of hate-motivated violence reach far beyond just the direct victims. News of a violent attack on a marginalized person can feel like an attack on the entire community. Research shows that following the Pulse nightclub shooting, LGBTQ+ individuals across the country reported experiencing emotional distress and said they would be less likely to attend safe spaces like LGBTQ+ nightclubs.11Julie M. Croff, “Hidden Rainbows: Gay Bars as Safe Havens in a Socially Conservative Area since the Pulse Nightclub Massacre,” Sexuality Research and Social Policy 14 (2017): 233–40, https://doi.org/10.1007/s13178-017-0273-1; Skyler D. Jackson, “‘Connection Is the Antidote’: Psychological Distress, Emotional Processing, and Virtual Community Building among LGBTQ Students after the Orlando Shooting,” Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity 4, no. 2 (2017): 160–68, https://doi.apa.org/doi/10.1037/sgd0000229; Menachem Ben-Ezra et al., “Shattering Core Beliefs: Psychological Reactions to Mass Shooting in Orlando,” Journal of Psychiatric Research 85 (2017): 56–58, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2016.09.033; Christopher B. Stults et al., “Perceptions of Safety among LGBTQ People following the 2016 Pulse Nightclub Shooting,” Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity 4, no. 3 (2017): 251–56, https://doi.apa.org/doi/10.1037/sgd0000240.

Gun Violence and LGBTQ+ People

Homicide

The gun homicide rate in the United States is 26 times higher than that of other high-income countries.12Everytown analysis of the most recent year of gun homicides by country (2013 to 2019), GunPolicy.org (accessed January 7, 2022). Our country’s gun violence epidemic has taken an enormous toll on the LGBTQ+ community. From the Pulse shooting in Orlando in 2016, to youth suicides and anti-trans violence across the country, our community has suffered terribly as a result of our nation’s inadequate gun safety laws.

13%

13 percent of the trans population in the US is estimated to be Black.

UCLA Williams Institute, “How Many Adults and Youth Identify as Transgender in the United States?” June 2022, https://bit.ly/3RD9Q8M 

63%

63 percent of known trans homicide victims were Black women.

Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, Transgender Homicide Tracker, 2017–2021.

Transgender and gender-nonconforming (GNC) people are uniquely impacted by gun violence. An analysis of Everytown’s Transgender Homicide Tracker found that homicides of trans and gender-nonconforming people in the United States and Puerto Rico have been on the rise for the last several years. From 2017 to 2021, the number of tracked transgender homicides more than doubled (from 29 incidents in 2017 to 59 incidents in 2021). During this period, 73 percent of the trans people killed were killed with a gun. At the same time, lawmakers in states across the country have put forward record numbers of anti-trans bills13ACLU, “Legislation Affecting LGBTQ Rights Across the County,” accessed June 3, 2022, https://www.aclu.org/legislation-affecting-lgbtq-rights-across-country; Matt Lavietes and Elliott Ramos, “Nearly 240 Anti-LGBTQ Bills Filed in 2022 So Far, Most of Them Targeting Trans People,” NBC News, March 20, 2022, https://nbcnews.to/3Q0aMEv. along with dangerous gun bills. It creates an environment ripe for deadly gun violence fueled by hate. Anti-trans violence, and specifically anti-trans gun violence, is concentrated against the Black community. While just 13 percent of the trans population in the United States is estimated to be Black,14UCLA Williams Institute, “How Many Adults and Youth Identify as Transgender in the United States?” June 2022. https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/publications/trans-adults-united-states/. 63 percent of known trans homicide victims were Black women.15Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, Transgender Homicide Tracker, 2017–2021. This database tracks all homicides of transgender or gender nonconforming victims. “Transgender (trans) and gender nonconforming (GNC)” refers to any person who identified or lived as a gender different than what was ascribed to them at birth. The term “homicide” includes shootings by police.

Suicide

90%

90 percent of suicide attempts with a gun are fatal, while 4 percent of those not involving a gun are fatal.

Andrew Conner, Deborah Azrael, and Matthew Miller, “Suicide Case-Fatality Rates in the United States, 2007 to 2014: A Nationwide Population-Based Study,” Annals of Internal Medicine 171, no. 12 (2019): 885–95, https://doi.org/10.7326/M19-1324.

Studies show that LGBTQ+ people, especially LGBTQ+ youth, are at a higher risk of contemplating and attempting suicide.16Sherry Everett Jones et al., “Mental Health, Suicidality, and Connectedness among High School Students during the COVID-19 Pandemic—Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey, United States, January–June 2021,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Supplement 71, no. 3 (April 2022): 16–21, https://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.su7103a3; Asha Z. Ivey-Stephenson et al., “Suicidal Ideation and Behaviors among High School Students—Youth Risk Behavior Survey, United States, 2019,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Supplement 69, no. 1 (August 21, 2020), http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.su6901a6; Michelle M. Johns et al., “Transgender Identity and Experiences of Violence Victimization, Substance Use, Suicide Risk, and Sexual Risk Behaviors among High School Students—19 States and Large Urban School Districts, 2017,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 68, no. 3 (January 25, 2019): 67–71, https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6803a3. And access to a firearm triples the risk of suicide death.17Andrew Anglemyer, Tara Horvath, and George Rutherford, “The Accessibility of Firearms and Risk for Suicide and Homicide Victimization among Household Members: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” Annals of Internal Medicine 160, no. 2 (2014): 101–10, https://doi.org/10.7326/M13-1301. Most people who attempt suicide do not die—unless they use a gun. Ninety percent of suicide attempts with a gun are fatal, while only 4 percent of attempts not involving a gun are fatal.18Andrew Conner, Deborah Azrael, and Matthew Miller, “Suicide Case-Fatality Rates in the United States, 2007 to 2014: A Nationwide Population-Based Study,” Annals of Internal Medicine 171, no. 12 (2019): 885–95, https://doi.org/10.7326/M19-1324. In fact, six out of every 10 gun deaths in the United States are suicides.19Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, “EveryStat: United States,” https://everystat.org/#suicide.

According to the 2015 US Transgender Survey, 40 percent of transgender people report having attempted suicide in their lifetime, nearly nine times the national average.20Sandy E. James et al., “The Report of the 2015 US Transgender Survey,” National Center for Transgender Equality, December 2016, https://bit.ly/3zczUC8. What’s more, the Trevor Project’s 2022 survey of nearly 34,000 LGBTQ+ youth ages 13 to 24 found that 45 percent of them seriously considered a suicide attempt in the past year and nearly one in five transgender and nonbinary youth had attempted suicide. Additionally, LGBTQ+ youth of color reported higher rates of suicide attempts than their white peers.21The Trevor Project, “2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth and Mental Health,” April 2022, https://2022survey.thetrevorproject.org/

These data imply that this epidemic of firearm suicide could have a disproportionate impact on transgender and adolescent members of the LGBTQ+ community. Members of the LGBTQ+ community are at greater risk due to the impact that social stigma, family rejection, bullying, harassment, and abuse have on their well-being.22Jun Sung Hong, Dorothy L. Espelage, and Michael J. Kral, “Understanding Suicide among Sexual Minority Youth in America: An Ecological Systems Analysis,” Journal of Adolescence 34, no. 5 (2011): 885–94, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2011.01.002; Laura Kann et al., “Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Related Behaviors among Students in Grades 9–12—United States and Selected Sites, 2015,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Surveillance Summaries 65, no. 9 (August 12, 2016): 1–202, https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.ss6509a1; The Trevor Project, “Suicide Risk Factors,” July 16, 2021, https://bit.ly/325IIaQ; Joanna Almeida et al., “Emotional Distress among LGBT Youth: The Influence of Perceived Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation,” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 38, no. 7 (2009): 1001–14, https://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10964-009-9397-9. However, LGBTQ+ youth who reported their families provide high support of their gender and sexual orientation reported suicide attempts at less than half the rate of those whose families provide low or moderate support.23The Trevor Project, “2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth and Mental Health.”

Intimate Partner Violence

Intimate partner violence is also a major concern for the LGBTQ+ community, with particular vulnerability among transgender communities and youth. More than half of transgender people responding to the 2015 US Transgender Survey experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime, and for nearly half of all survey respondents, this violence came in the form of coercive control.24James et al., “2015 US Transgender Survey.” According to the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 44 percent of lesbians and 61 percent of bisexual women experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 35 percent of straight women.25Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “NISVS: An Overview of 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation,” 2011, https://bit.ly/3xoayyT. Other research shows that compared to straight people, bisexual people are eight times as likely to experience domestic violence and lesbian or gay people are more than twice as likely to experience domestic violence.26Jennifer L. Truman and Rachel E. Morgan, “Violent Victimization by Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, 2017–2020,” Bureau of Justice Statistics, June 2022, https://bjs.ojp.gov/content/pub/pdf/vvsogi1720.pdf. Dating violence also impacts LGBTQ+ youth, who experience such assaults at twice the rate of their non-LGBTQ+ peers, based on an HRC Foundation analysis of public-use data from the YRBSS.27Human Rights Campaign Foundation, “LGBTQ Intimate Partner Violence and COVID-19,” June 25, 2020, https://bit.ly/3NW6Ing.

Firearm access helps fuel intimate partner violence and significantly increases the risk of lethal violence.

The Path to Saving Lives

No single solution can stop gun violence in the United States. Only through a comprehensive approach can we effectively reduce and prevent all forms of gun violence. As a first step toward comprehensive change, our nation must adopt commonsense gun violence prevention measures, including:

  • The Disarm Hate Act (H.R. 3929 / S. 2090), which would close a dangerous loophole in federal law by prohibiting people convicted of violent hate crimes from accessing or acquiring guns. Under current federal law, a violent or threatening hate crime misdemeanor conviction does not prohibit someone from buying or possessing a gun. While some states have laws closing this gap, most do not. As a result, in much of the country, someone convicted of a violent hate crime can still legally pass a background check and purchase a firearm, including military-style weapons.
  • Extreme Risk laws, which would disrupt dangerous individuals’ access to guns, need to be enacted, available, and implemented across all 50 states. Extreme Risk laws empower law enforcement, among others, to petition a civil court for an order to temporarily remove firearms from and block the future purchase of firearms by a person deemed a danger to themselves or others. In 2022, President Joe Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act28Everytown for Gun Safety, “What is the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act?” June 21, 2022, https://www.everytown.org/what-is-the-bipartisan-safer-communities-act/. that provides $750 million in much-needed funding over the next five years to support crisis intervention services, including the implementation of state Extreme Risk laws. In addition, the House of Representatives passed29Everytown for Gun Safety, “Everytown Applauds Bipartisan House Passage of Rep. McBath’s Extreme Risk Protection Order Bill,” press release, June 9, 2022, https://www.everytown.org/press/everytown-applauds-bipartisan-house-passage-of-rep-mcbaths-extreme-risk-protection-order-bill/. a strong federal Extreme Risk law that would encourage more states to pass strong Extreme Risk laws, and establish a strong process that federal courts in all 50 states could use. The 19 states, and the District of Columbia, that have already passed Extreme Risk laws need to increase uptake and strengthen implementation of their Extreme Risk laws, including by utilizing newly available federal funds.30Everytown for Gun Safety, “After a Landmark Federal Law, What’s Next for Gun Safety in the States,” July 13, 2022, https://www.everytown.org/report/after-a-landmark-federal-law-whats-next-for-gun-safety-in-the-states/. 
  • Create federal offices of Domestic Terrorism within the Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to formally establish a coordinated response to the threat of white supremacists and domestic violent extremist groups that target marginalized communities. The new offices of Domestic Terrorism would also submit joint annual reports to Congress, including, among other things, a quantitative analysis of domestic terrorism assessments, investigations, arrests, indictments, and prosecutions, which must both include the review of federal hate crime charges to determine whether they also constitute domestic terrorism–related incidents and be accompanied by a certification that each assessment described is in compliance with all applicable civil rights and civil liberties laws and regulations.

In 2021, President Joe Biden signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act into law, which included provisions of the Jabara Heyer NO Hate Act that improve hate crime reporting and expand assistance and resources for victims of hate crimes. Still, state and federal officials have largely failed the LGBTQ+ community when it comes to ensuring equal treatment in government data collection efforts. While some federal and state demographic data collection efforts include metrics on sexual orientation and gender identity, most fail to obtain this data. Sexual orientation and gender identity questions are also omitted from the country’s largest demographic data collection endeavors, such as the decennial US Census.31Elliott Kozuch, “HRC Report: State and Federal Officals Failing LGBTQ Community in Data Collection,” Human Rights Campaign, September 17, 2019, https://bit.ly/3anISC4. Municipalities, states, and the federal government can promulgate policies that require their respective data collection undertakings to be fully inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community, while ensuring the safety and privacy of these groups are protected.

Honoring the memories of the lives cut short at Pulse six years ago—and the many other members of the LGBTQ+ community whose lives have been stolen or forever changed by hate and violence—means taking action to strengthen our nation’s gun laws. There’s no time to waste.

Methodology

Because it is not mandatory that law enforcement agencies report hate crimes to the FBI, this report relies on data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ (BJS) National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). The NCVS is an annual, nationally representative survey that interviews households on their experiences with criminal victimization. While the NCVS is not able to survey victims of fatal crimes, it captures detailed information about each victimization reported, including demographic information from respondents, the characteristics of the crime committed, and whether a crime was reported to the police—allowing for an understanding of hate crime victimization that may not be captured by victims who are not comfortable engaging with the criminal justice system. 

Another important analysis in this report obtained estimates for LGBTQ+ youth experiences of weapon-based violence, suicide, and intimate partner violence, HRC utilized the public-use microdata available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS). Because not every state asks sexual orientation and gender identity questions and not every state makes its data publicly available on the CDC’s data and documentation domain, this analysis is generally limited to a subset of states available. Data are weighted according to the specifications set forth by the CDC. For variance estimation within strata that contain a single unit, the strata are centered at the population mean instead of the stratum mean.

Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund’s analysis of homicides of transgender and gender-nonconforming people in the United States comes from its Transgender Homicide Tracker, 2017–2021, which tracks all homicides from media and local reports, including those perpetrated by law enforcement. Given the likely underreporting of these homicides by the media, and the prevalent misgendering by law enforcement, these numbers likely represent a tragic undercount.32Lucas Waldron and Ken Schwencke, “Deadnamed,” ProPublica, August 10, 2018, https://bit.ly/3NdUVAJ.

Explore the data here, and download an Excel file here.

Everytown Research & Policy is a program of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, an independent, non-partisan organization dedicated to understanding and reducing gun violence. Everytown Research & Policy works to do so by conducting methodologically rigorous research, supporting evidence-based policies, and communicating this knowledge to the American public.

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