Gays are far more likely to be targets of a violent hate crime than any other minority group in the United States, according to a new analysis of federal hate crime statistics.
The Southern Poverty Law Center examined FBI data from 1995 to 2008 in preparing the report released Nov. 22. The analysis found that people perceived to be gay are more than twice as likely to be attacked in a violent hate crime as Jews or blacks. Gays are more than four times as likely to be attacked as Muslims and 14 times as likely as Latinos.
SPLC’s “Intelligence Report” comes on the heels of a wave of anti-gay attacks. A neighborhood In Covington, Ky., was hit by a series of homophobic violence over the summer. In New York, 10 gang members were arrested in October for torturing three men.
“As Americans become more accepting of homosexuals, the most extreme elements of the anti-gay movement are digging in their heels and continuing to defame gays and lesbians with falsehoods that grow more incendiary by the day,” said Mark Potok, editor of the report.
“The leaders of this movement may deny it, but it seems clear that their demonization of homosexuals plays a role in fomenting the violence, hatred and bullying we’re seeing,” Potok said.
The report labels 13 right-wing Christian organizations as hate groups for disseminating falsehoods about LGBT people, including accusations that gays are inherently unhealthy and live shorter lives than heterosexuals, that gays molest children at higher rates than straights and that gays controlled the Nazi Party and helped to orchestrate the Holocaust.
The American Family Association, Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, Family Research Council, Coral Ridge Ministries and Concerned Women for America are among the groups named.
Chip Berlet, co-author of “Right Wing Populism in America: Too Close to Home,” said the right wing’s homophobia is more complex than its racism and xenophobia. According to him, the latter represent a backlash against new groups encroaching into the power structure – a backlash that was galvanized by the election of Barack Obama and is rooted in the nation’s changing demographics toward a majority non-white society.
Berlet, a senior analyst at the Massachusetts-based Political Research Associates, addressed students at UW-M Nov. 30 about the Tea Party movement. Although that movement does not actively promote an anti-gay agenda, Berlet told WiG that its members feel the same level of mistrust and anger toward LGBT people as they do toward blacks, Muslims and Latino immigrants.
But unlike those prejudices, homophobia is a reaction to desire, Berlet said, which means it impacts people in more visceral ways.
“If a person doesn’t think of himself as gay but in fact has a repressed desire, he can (attack gays) to negate the desire, whether it’s conscious or unconscious,” Berlet said. “Teenage boys will often attack a gay person so they can say to themselves that they have no gay feelings, whether they do or don’t.”
Berlet said homophobia is further complicated by the fact that straight males perceive gays as a threat to their traditional stature in society: “If gay people are accepted as normal, then what happens to all these claims about how there’s a natural order of hierarchy of men over women?”
Berlet said it’s the threat factor that fuels Tea Party homophobia.
“The Tea Party movement is a movement of predominantly white middle-class people who feel squeezed by parasites above and below,” Berlet said. “The parasites above are embodied by Obama – a black, Muslim, socialist who loves gay people and is going to take their guns away. And those below are people they see as lazy, black, sinful and gay. They believe they are the people who are going to save America from these twin forces.”
Berlet said although more tempered minds tend to dismiss this sort of thinking as silly and irrational, it’s critical to confront people who espouse such extremist beliefs with facts.
“We’re in a society where the center has collapsed … and the people who are circling the wagons are the Tea Party and the Republicans and Fox News,” Berlet said. “I don’t think our society is unraveling yet but another major terrorist attack or another major economic downturn and everything could collapse very quickly, much more quickly than people expect.”