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LGBTQ people of color face 'compounded violence,' advocates say

The alleged attack of black, gay actor Jussie Smollett is “reflective of what we see in our national data of hate violence,” according to Anti-Violence Project’s Eliel Cruz.
Image: Jussie Smollett
Singer/actor Jussie Smollett performs onstage at the Many Rivers to Cross Festival at Bouckaert Farm on Oct. 1, 2016 in Fairburn, Georgia.Paras Griffin / Getty Images

Tuesday’s alleged attack of “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, who is both black and gay, underscored an issue many LGBTQ advocates have been working to highlight for years: violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people of color.

The most recent FBI hate crimes report found a 17 percent year-over-year spike in bias crimes in 2017 — the third consecutive yearly increase. Nearly 58 percent of the reported bias incidents were motivated by the victims’ race, ethnicity or ancestry, and more than 17 percent were motivated by sexual orientation or gender identity.

While the FBI’s report does not specify how many of the victims were LGBTQ people of color, the Anti-Violence Project, a national nonprofit that tracks violence against the LGBTQ community, told NBC News it, too, has seen an increase in hate violence and noted that LGBTQ people of color often bear the brunt of these bias incidents.

“LGBTQ people living at multiple intersections of oppression, such as racism and homophobia, experience compounded violence,” Eliel Cruz, a spokesperson for AVP, explained.

Cruz said Smollett’s alleged attack is “reflective of what we see in our national data of hate violence.” In 2017, AVP recorded a record-high 52 anti-LGBTQ homicides across the U.S. More than 70 percent of those victims, according to the report, were people of color.

Transgender women of color are particularly at risk, according to AVP, which found 22 of the 52 homicide victims (42 percent) in 2017 were trans women of color.

For members of QLatinx, a Florida-based LGBTQ Latino advocacy and support group, the reported rise in violence against LGBTQ people of color is far from abstract.

Christopher Cuevas, executive director of QLatinx, said the organization was founded in response to the 2016 mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, which left 49 people dead, most of them LGBTQ Latinos. Cuevas said QLatinx was originally started to provide a space for LGBTQ Latinos in Central Florida to process their trauma from the shooting.

The organization’s work has since expanded, but among its highest priorities is to “work towards a society free of fear, violence, and hate,” according to its mission statement.

“LGBTQ communities of color are at the greatest risk of violence” Cuevas said, citing the AVP report. “We see this growing trend in violence against our community and not enough infrastructural support to ensure we are protected, so we need to protect ourselves.”

QLatinx isn’t alone in its work. Throughout the country, groups like the Trans Women of Color Collective and the Boston Hispanic Black Gay Coalition work specifically to empower and advocate for LGBTQ people of color.