'From Stonewall to Laramie, and Now Orlando'

Hillary Clinton just spoke about the shootings at a gay club in Orlando, Florida. She hit basically every possible political topic connected to the massacre: national security, ISIS, solidarity with the Muslim community, her support for the LGBT community. She placed these murders in the context of a long history of violence against LGBT people in the United States: “From Stonewall to Laramie, and now Orlando, we’ve seen too many examples of how the struggle to live freely, openly, and without fear has been met by violence,” she said. 

As I wrote yesterday, the 1969 protests against a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York led to the creation of gay-pride parades and celebrations, including those that are taking place around the country this month. Laramie, Wyoming, is another notorious marker in the geography of LGBT-related violence: It’s where Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old University of Wyoming student, was tied to a fence, beaten with a gun, and left to freeze. In 2009, 11 years after the murder, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which allows the federal government to investigate and prosecute hate crimes committed on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, among other identity factors. 

In an interview on Monday, Obama said the Orlando shooting is being investigated as a matter of terrorism. The murders are also part of a larger pattern of hate-motivated assaults and murders on LGBT Americans. But these kinds of crimes are still difficult to track and prosecute. Even though the legislation named for Matthew Shepard gives the federal government more latitude on certain kinds of crimes, it only covers those that concern “interstate or foreign commerce.” Most assaults and murders are investigated under state laws, which are far from uniform. Florida law does prohibit hate crimes specifically based on sexual orientation, but not gender identity. Meanwhile, many other states do not have specific prohibitions on crimes motivated by bias against sexual orientation or gender identity, and five don’t have hate-crime statutes at all. Even in those that do, reports the AP, many police and county sheriff’s departments have not reported any such crimes to the FBI in the past six years.