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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Report: Violence Remains Endemic in LGBT Community

Posted By on Thu, Feb 12, 2015 at 10:24 AM

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Thus far, San Francisco has had a disturbingly murderous 2015, and the killing of transwoman Taja DeJesus in the Bayview last week shed more light on the disturbing prevalence of violence against the LGBT community. As a grim coincidence, the San Francisco LGBT Center (along with 14 other nonprofits and city agencies) has just released a comprehensive, 149-page report examining how LGBT San Franciscans experience violence in their lives.

I spoke with Rebecca Rolfe, the Center’s Executive Director, about her organization’s findings. She believes Francisco’s LGBT community has a certain “It can’t happen here” mentality about our liberal mecca.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” she said, including “beliefs that the community is one of great wealth and great resources, as well as persistent misperception that we in San Francisco have conquered homophobia and transphobia.”

Because LGBT people are not necessarily counted in the U.S. Census, and social research studies don’t always break down data by sexual orientation or gender identity, a great deal of crucial information can get lost. Teasing it out is no easy task, either. Loneliness and disconnection plague the community at large, the report shows, and contribute to a climate where traumatic experiences fly under the radar. But concentrations of violence occur where we might expect them most: at the intersection of race, poverty and gender non-conformity.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, transwomen of color experience the highest rates of physical violence, sexual violence, and harassment. Referring to Taja DeJesus specifically, Rolfe added that a shocking “60 percent of transgender Latinas feel unsafe walking around,” while only 12 percent of the general LGBTQI population does.

Although it affirmed what the Center understood anecdotally to be true, Rolfe emphasized that “the report is a starting place, not an ending place.” It didn’t focus as intensely on recommendations for city agencies as it did on spelling out what people’s experiences of violence are. (In other words, the SF LGBT Center sincerely wants to partner with the city to address the issues, not lob spears at Ed Lee.)

Rolfe believes that one major underlying issue is the reluctance to report that violence. A dispiriting sense of “What are the cops going to do about it?” undoubtedly permeates nearly all types of crime, from iPhone theft to sexual assault by a partner. But in this case, it’s doubly counterproductive, as existing systems of violence prevention and intervention aren’t always set up to help LGBT victims.

“The number one thing people did [after experiencing violence] was tell a friend or a family member,” Rolfe said. That, unfortunately, is both a cause and symptom of a pernicious, passive strain of homo- and transphobia, where social service agencies can’t begin to address what they don’t even know about.

I asked if respondents, in reporting negative encounters with law enforcement and with medical care, singled out the SFPD, SF General Hospital or other such institutions. Rolfe claims not to have heard anything specific. “The survey is limited to people who live, work, play or receive services in San Francisco,” she said. “So they had to have some formal connection to San Francisco. But we didn’t ask them to define who the actual provider was. People report their experiences with the police, but that wasn’t specific to San Francisco police, nor any particular police department.” When people did name-check an institution, it was in the form of praise, as with Lyon-Martin being a “particularly supportive health care environment.”

So, in short, was Rolfe surprised? Unfortunately, yes. “I do think it’s a bit shocking to see the degree to which violence has impacted the community, and how widespread it is,” she said. For transgender and gender non-conforming San Franciscans, “we see an enormous concentration of violence. It’s happening earlier, more frequently, more recently and more severely.” It can happen here, and all too often does.
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Pete Kane

Pete Kane

Bio:
Pete Kane is a total gaylord who is trying to get to every national park before age 40

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