Sarah Warbelow: The Orlando Massacre & Links to the Epidemic of Hate Crimes Targeting America's LGBTQ Community" />

Orlando Massacre the Latest in Hate Crimes Epidemic Targeting America's LGBTQ Community

Posted June 22, 2016

MP3 Interview with Sarah Warbelow, legal director with Human Rights Campaign, conducted by Scott Harris


After the carnage at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub that killed 49 and wounded 53 on June 12, Americans are reflecting on many issues related to the bloodbath there. Issues being debated include the threat of terrorism, religious extremism, gun control and hate crimes targeting the LGBTQ community. While the motivation of the Orlando mass murderer may never be fully known, given the contradictory statements and behavior of the perpetrator, the targeting of gays and lesbians for violence is a familiar fact of life in the U.S.

According to the most recent FBI statistics available, more than 20 percent of hate crimes reported nationally in 2014 targeted people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. However, advocacy groups say these numbers dramatically undercount incidents involving the LGBTQ community, as they are based on local, non-mandatory reporting. Further, statistics on murders and crimes against transgender people are especially unreliable, as many attacks are miscategorized or go unreported.

The serious problem of homophobia in the U.S. can be seen in the statements made by several conservative Christian churches across the U.S. after the Orlando mass shooting, which praised the murders of gays and lesbians there. One pastor in Sacramento, California lamented that more didn't die. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Sarah Warbelow, legal director with Human Rights Campaign. Here, she discusses the tragic mass shooting in Orlando in the context of the ongoing epidemic of hate crimes targeting members of the LGBTQ community across the U.S. (Rush transcript)

SARAH WARBELOW: First and foremost, we really do want to remind Americans that it was the LGBTQ community that was targeted. This was not a random act of violence, the perpetrator that we may never know his exact motives made it clear that he was staking out and seeking LGBTQ people as the victims of his crime. And so, we want to educate the public about the harms that occur when we have Americans who spew hate toward the LGBTQ community. And sometimes that hate is very much at the forefront, at the focus, there are clear messages that LGBTQ people are sinners who are not deserving of the full American Dream. But it's also those more than 200 pieces of legislation that have been introduced in more than 30 states across the countries designed to undermine the rights of the LGBTQ people. When we send messages of intolerance and hate, it's hardly surprising that someone who was predisposed to violence would select the LGBTQ community as the target of hateful attacks. So we're really committed to changing the rhetoric and policies that are being introduced in legislatures in coast to coast.

The second thing we're doing is we're really focusing on hate crimes against LGBTQ people. Currently, 20 percent of all hate crimes are motivated by victim's sexual orientation or gender identity. According to the latest hate crime statistics by the FBI, that's a huge number, second only to hate crimes committed on the basis of race. And when you consider the relatively small number of people that are LGBTQ in this community, we're talking about a disproportionate level of violence against the the LGBTQ community.

And then finally, in an area that has been relatively new for the Human Rights Campaign, we are taking on the issue of gun violence protection. We know that the vast majority of Americans support solutions that are common sense between the needs and rights under the Second Amendment and coming up with solutions that decrease the levels of violence nationwide.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Sarah, what kind of hate crimes are committed across this country that don't get a great deal of attention from our news media, unlike this horrendous massacre of 49 people in Orlando, Florida.

SARAH WARBELOW: In 2015, there were a very significant number of transgender women who were murdered in this country. These were individual murders, so rather than an instance of mass violence, but added up, we saw over 20 women who had their lives ended, simply because the perpetrator of the violence could not tolerate that they were living their lives with an understanding who they were. That their gender identity didn't match the sex assigned to them at birth, didn't correspond with who they understood themselves to be. And for their courage in living out their truth, their lives were horrendously ended.

And I want to note, too, that many of these hate crimes are committed by people of color. Virtually all of those trans women who were murdered last year were women of color, and if we look at the incident that happened in Orlando, the vast majority of the individuals who were murdered were Latino or Latina.


SARAH WARBELOW: In the aftermath of the Orlando massacre, we heard from conservative politicians, including the presumptive GOP presidential candidate, Donald Trump, and some other right-wing commentators that they're now reaching out to the gay community, making the case that they are allies, and can protect the community from hate crimes, including that emanating from religious extremism in the Islamic community. What do you make of that?

I think that many of these politicians are being opportunistic. They're utilizing an incredibly tragic event to meet their own political goals. These are politicians who supposedly are offering an olive branch to the LGBT community but have supported nominating justices to the Supreme Court that would undermine marriage equality, who have supported the so-called First Amendment Defense Act which would allow for rampant discrimination against LGBTQ people by government actors and recipients of government funds. These are individuals who will not take a stand in support of ensuring that our civil rights laws provide the full protections needed for LGBTQ people in housing, public accommodations, even in jury service. So to think that all of a sudden they are the individuals who will be the saviors of the LGBTQ community is really just despicable.

Find more information on how the LGBTQ community is combating hate crimes by visiting Human Rights Campaign at

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