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Living in the US
Homophobia and Hate Crimes in the US
The US is and always has been a very multicultural country. Nevertheless, minority groups in the US are unfortunately often subject to discrimination, ranging from racist comments to violent hate crimes. This article offers information on racism, xenophobia, and homophobia in the US.
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Homophobia and the LGBT Community
Open hostility against the LGBT community is less severe in the US than in many other countries, but unfortunately bullying, harassment, and sometimes even violence against people based on their real or perceived sexual orientation does occur. Whether or not you need to worry about harassment largely depends on where in the US you live. People living in rural areas and small towns, as well as much of the South and Midwest, are known for being intolerant of LGBT individuals, whereas people in many big cities, such as San Francisco, are known for being very open and accepting.
General public acceptance of the LGBT community continues to increase each year, but a large proportion of the US population is still opposed to guaranteeing homosexuals equal rights in all areas of life. Unfortunately, these groups, which are usually religiously and politically conservative, generally show very strong opposition. Although the LGBT community continues to gain more rights each year and same-sex marriage is now legal in 18 states, a very vocal group continues to proclaim that the future of the American family and the very natural order itself are threatened by these changes.
Homophobia is a particularly troubling problem when it comes to LGBT youths. Eight out of ten LGBT students report being bullied in school because of their sexual orientation, which can have devastating psychological effects then and later in life. The rights of transgender people are often less clearly defined by US laws, making gender discrimination on the basis of gender identity a prevalent problem in the courtroom, workplace, schools, etc.
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Although most forms of discrimination in the US are nonviolent, there are over 1,000 known hate groups in the US. These include neo-Nazis, white nationalists, racist skinheads, border vigilantes, and black separatists. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) monitors all these groups and other extremists, and exposes any illegal activity to the federal government. They also offer support to victims of hate crimes and other forms of discrimination by these groups. For an overview of hate groups in the US, where they are located, and the legal action that has been taken against them, as well as the work that is being done to promote tolerance of all people, visit the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The FBI publishes an annual report on the number of hate crimes committed in the US in the previous year. According to the report, there were 5,796 separate hate crime incidents reported in 2012. As hate crimes are notoriously under-reported, however, since they are not always classified as such by reporting officers, the actual number is probably considerably higher. A total of 48.3% of these crimes were racially motivated, 19.6% occurred because of sexual-orientation bias, 19% were a result of religious discrimination, 11.5% were prompted by a person’s perceived national origin or ethnicity, and the remaining 1.6% were perpetrated against people with disabilities.
Members of the LGBT community (when considered as a proportion of the total population) are the most likely minority group to be a victim of a violent hate crime. This minority group is followed by Jews, African Americans, Muslims, and Hispanics. Whenever a certain issue becomes very emotionally charged in the US, a spike in the number of hate crimes can be noticed, as with Muslims after the 9/11 attacks or people of Hispanic descent in light of the current national anti-immigration debate.
As a majority of expats live in cities in more tolerant areas of the country, members of the expat community will usually not need to worry about becoming a victim of a hate crime. Nevertheless, it is still important to stay up to date on what is happening on a local and national level.
Reporting Civil Rights Violations
Many laws are in place to protect the civil rights of all people in the US, regardless of their sex, race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. If you think your civil rights have been violated, the US Department of Justice website has information on the respective government agency to file the complaint with, depending on which category it falls under. These categories are:
- Criminal violations (hate crimes, human trafficking, threats or use of force to interfere with access to reproductive care or with the exercise of religious beliefs, etc.)
- Disability rights
- Educational opportunities
- Job discrimination and unfair employment practices
- Housing and civil enforcement (housing discrimination, credit discrimination, etc.)
- Voting rights violations