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Bias/Hate Violence: Where Are We?

Update: The following letters were read publicly at the 7/27/11 dedication of the Montrose Remembrance Garden, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the murder of Houston resident Paul Broussard.

Mario Gallegos, Jr., State Senator

Jessica Farrar, State Representative

Scott Hochberg, State Representative

This afternoon, July 12, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs issued its annual Hate-Violence Report (pdf). Montrose Counseling Center contributed to the study, however bias-related crimes – particularly against the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities – are severely underreported.

This month, we prepare to honor the memory of Paul Broussard, a gay man whose stabbing death on July 4, 1991, opened our collective eyes to the hate-related violence in our own backyard. Montrose Counseling Center joins Charles Armstrong Investments along with the Aaron Scheerhoorn Foundation for Change in dedicating the northwest corner of California and Grant streets to the memory of Broussard, as well as all GLBT victims of violence. The observance is open to the public and will begin at 8 p.m. on Thursday, July 28.

In October of 2009, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and that was a step in the right direction. On paper, at least, the federal law extended protection to include sexual orientation and gender identity. What that says is that as a nation, we will not tolerate hate-violence, whether it’s directed at someone for their race, religion, gender, gender identity, national origin, sexual orientation and/or disability status.

Each of these protected categories has a long history of marginalization within the state of Texas as well as throughout the rest of the country. For nearly 20 years now, local law enforcement agencies have been required to report hate crimes to the FBI, but whether it qualifies as bias-motivated is subject to interpretation, by the officers responding to the crime as well as the prosecutors. The most recent statistics show that racial bias remains at the top of the list. Religion comes in second, and sexual orientation is third. Up until now, we have not been able to assess crimes based on real or perceived gender identity, but the FBI will begin aggregating that information this year.

Scientia potentia est. Knowledge is Power. In order to combat and address these crimes, as well as offer services to the survivors, we need to know that they occur. We need to know how often they occur and where. Many hate crime victims do not report what happened to them, and this is particularly true in our communities. You might wonder why that is. Stigma. Homophobia, both externalized and internalized. When you report a hate crime, you have to indicate what made you a target in order to get the additional penalty imposed. This means you have to out yourself. In a document that becomes part of the public record. Even if you are out and proud, it is something to take into consideration. Not everyone is willing to go public. Would you?

So how free are we, then, to report? What are the risks of having that information available to the public at large? Right now, the courts will not protect you if your employer fires you. Family court may hold it against you in divorce or adoption proceedings. You may be evicted from your home. These are hardships and burdens on the members of our community, that other protected categories do not have to face.

Services like Montrose Counseling Center’s Anti-Violence Program are limited in the number of people they can assist, not because there aren’t victims, but because funding sources don’t see the need when they look at the statistics. Even with underreporting, remember that sexual orientation is the third highest victim category. MCC provides counseling, case management and advocacy services to anyone who identifies as the survivor of a hate crime.

“We simply had to respond,” says Ann J. Robison, PhD, Executive Director at MCC, “because Houston didn’t have any programs at all for Hate Crime survivors.” MCC’s hate crimes program is all-encompassing, and does not limit assistance to victims of anti-GLBT violence. “We have reached out to the African American community following the murder of James Byrd, to the Muslim community in the rash of hate crimes committed post-9/11 and most recently after the death of Osama bin Laden. The Anti-Violence Program also provides these services to survivors of same-sex domestic partner abuse as well as sexual assault survivors.

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