The Complicated Reality of LGBT+ Awareness Days: Victimization, Violence, and Discrimination

As we look back on October, we have observed several important moments of recognition for LGBT+ communities, such as National Coming Out Day, National Pronouns Day, Spirit Day, Intersex Awareness Day, and LGBT History Month. These celebrations are important markers for progress, visibility, and celebration for coming out stories and LGBT+ history. They also encourage openness and discussion about sexual and gender minorities in the public sphere and provide venues for those who are potentially questioning their sexuality or gender to explore and share their identities.

Despite the multitude of celebrations in October, it is also true that LGBT+ individuals are still often at a higher risk for victimization and discrimination. In 2017, RTI International published Violence and LGBT+ Communities: What Do We Know, and What Do We Need to Know?, an analysis of 20 years of research on victimization, violence, and perpetration of, toward, and by LGBT+ individuals. We want to be especially sensitive to individuals whose families are different than them, and especially those who have experienced violence in the home or from those closest to them.

This study, in the wake of the passage of North Carolina HB 2, sought to determine what conclusions research has made regarding LGBT+ individuals, what the gaps in research are, and what the reality has been over the last 20 years for LGBT+ adults and youth. Since then, parts of HB 2 related to limiting bathroom use by sex have been repealed, but its social impact lasts.

According to the report, LGBT+ individuals are more likely to be victims of violence than cisgender or heterosexual individuals. This includes forms of interpersonal violence (IPV), teen dating violence (TDV), bullying, hate crimes, harassment, and physical and sexual assault (3). Transgender youth are more likely than lesbian, gay or bisexual cisgender youth to experience physical or sexual partner violence, and bisexual youth are more likely than lesbian and gay youth to experience partner violence as well (35).

Further, despite the common perception that society is becoming more open to LGBT+ rights, most individuals report few changes in rates of victimization, and for youth, bullying and harassment has increased in schools (3). Clearly, there is still a lot of work to be done at a societal level.

So, this October, while acknowledging these days of victory, visibility, and awareness for the LGBT+ community, we also want to recognize the ongoing struggles and victimization experienced by many LGBT+ individuals. We also want to highlight the important work done by RTI staff showing both the lived experiences of LGBT+ individuals over the last 20 years, as well as dispelling common rhetoric that leads to the further marginalization of LGBT+ individuals at the government and societal levels.

This report highlights research work that still needs to be done, including the identification of different violence trends between sexual and gender minorities, the impact that victimization can have on the behaviors and experiences of LGBT+ individuals, and further research to understand the prevalence and risk of victimization, particularly the prevalence and risk of homicide and other forms of violence.

Ultimately, there is still a long way to go both in research and advocacy to ensure the safety and equality of LGBT+ individuals both under the law and in society. We recognize the incredible strides and efforts that these awareness days represent, but also are cognizant of the complicated reality of existence for many LGBT+ individuals in the United States.

Read the full report here.