This blog post was written by Audrey, one of NVRDC's Case Managers.
Two weeks and more have passed since the Pulse shooting ended the lives of 49 individuals out for Latin night at the Orlando LGBTQ nightclub, and there are those of us still feeling the heaviness of this vast loss of life and chilling act of aggression. Speculation on the shooter’s motive varies, but for those within the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer community it requires no leap to recognize it as an act of bias against us -- it is all too familiar, fits all too well in a long history of violence targeting sexual minorities for terror, marginalization and extinction.
When I heard the news, I was en route to do outreach on behalf of NVRDC at DC’s Pride Festival. I thought immediately of the role violence has played in our history and the violent realities so many of us live with every day of the present, how this has shaped and marked our community, how we have never been free of it. And I thought of how meaningful it was to be going to Pride to represent an organization dedicated to survival and recovery from violence---how relevant NVRDC’s work is to my identity and my community. LGBTQ people are accustomed to the feeling of violence hovering just over our shoulders. June, this month dedicated to celebrating our existence, is itself connected to violence, a commemoration of our losses and our survival through generations of abuse and abandonment: Our month of Pride marks the anniversary of riots. Riots against violence perpetrated upon our identities, our visibility, our ability to stand together in public. We know violence well.
On this matter, I choose the word violence instead of crime, because throughout our community history we have often been the ones criminalized. The harm perpetrated upon our community as a whole and sections within the community in particular has not always been recognized as criminal, while we ourselves have been seen as criminal only for existing authentically. This is true both historically, when authorities had the power and the inclination to assault and arrest LGBTQ people who dared to congregate, and it is true to this day, with legislation seen in North Carolina and beyond that criminalizes transgender and gender-non-conforming individuals’ use of public facilities.
In addition to state violence against our community, individual acts of bias-related violence have simultaneously affected LGBTQ people’s lives and freedoms. Pulse was only the latest in acts of mass violence against spaces dedicated to the LGBTQ community. Per FBI statistics and Southern Poverty Law Center estimations, people falling under the LGBTQ umbrella are more likely than any other marginalized group to experience a crime motivated by identity-related bias. These attacks are not spread evenly across the entire LGBTQ population, but rather disproportionately affect certain identities under the umbrella as well as the intersections of LGBTQ identities with other marginalized identities. Transgender women of color, for example, face appalling rates of victimization for assault, sexual assault, and murder.
As if all this were not enough, more than enough, more than much too much, many of us are also targeted by our own, by our partners, by our chosen family. For us, rates of domestic violence, intimate partner violence, and dating violence also outpace the rates seen in exclusively heterosexual relationships. Cut off from family, in relationships already legitimized by or invisible to authorities, lacking positive representations of healthy relationships that look like ours, our resources for escaping abusers are thinner.
So this is what I mean when I say that we as a community exist in the shadow of violence.
Any one of us in the LGBTQ community here today is, by heritage, a survivor. And many of us are or will be or will again be survivors of direct victimization. We mourn this reality. We fight this reality. We must believe in our power to someday change this reality. And we must also, on an individual level, work to heal this reality.
NVRDC directly engages that work towards healing by providing holistic services to survivors. As a community-based resource, NVRDC is positioned to serve the needs of LGBTQ survivors in several ways.
We will never pressure someone to report. The choice to engage the criminal legal system is an individual choice, and individuals have valid, compelling reasons not to do so. This does not mean they are ineligible for nor much less that they are undeserving of many services that may aid in their recovery.
We maintain a network of providers of and for the community. When survivors come to us from unique populations with specific concerns and needs, we will work to connect them to community providers dedicated to working within their population.
We take cultural competency seriously. Retraumatization by providers and authorities is a preventable tragedy. Misunderstandings about a survivor’s life, relationships, and identity must not create barriers to receiving services. We work continuously to augment cultural competency through ongoing staff education, research, and engagement with the communities we serve.
Survivors are not alone. When survivors choose to engage authorities, we stand with them when making reports to police, meeting with prosecutors, or appearing in court. Having a community-based advocate or attorney by the survivor’s side throughout the process can improve understanding between them and authorities, allow opportunities for cultural translation, and create an emotional buffer.
We believe survivors. Especially when survivors’ stories do not fit neatly within mainstream cultural stereotypes of relationships, crime, or victimhood, they may face skepticism or feel they have a burden of proof before being received for care. That is not our role. We are here to listen to your story with compassion and understanding and to assess how to help.
I have not stopped reflecting daily on our loss in Orlando. I reflect daily on the horrors and crises my LGBTQ siblings experience. I reflect on my community’s open wounds and daunting barriers. And I go to work.