A LGBTQ community member was on his way, on foot, to his apartment in Little Havana when a rush of taunts, threats and harassment made him think he was in his native Colombia.
“People like you must be underground”
They insulted Ireland, a transgender immigrant, four men chasing her, she recounted. He quickly managed to get into his home. They threw beer bottles at him and one broke the kitchen window.
A neighbor called the police, the subjects were arrested, but eventually they were not charged because she could not identify which of the suspects damaged the property, said the 36-year-old woman, who identified herself under a pseudonym because she fears rejection if she is found to be transgender.
“I have several friends who have been beaten and attacked in Miami Beach itself“, Ireland said. “Most of us don’t call the police. Just because you’re trans, you’re already being prejudged. They assume you’re in the bad footsteps.”
HOMOPHOBIC VIOLENCE: A MODERN PROBLEM THAT NEEDS TO BE SOLVED
His testimony illustrates a trend in Miami-Dade County that for the first time is presented with concrete data. Hispanic immigrants from the LGBTQ community are sometimes victimized for their sexual orientation or gender identity and, when it happens, mostly do not report assaults out of fear, shame or mistrust in the judicial system.
It is one of the findings from a comprehensive study by Florida International University (FIU), entitled Anti-LGBTQ Hate Crimes in Miami, to be released Wednesday, the result of a joint effort with miami-Dade State Prosecutor’s Office, Miami-Dade Police and SAVE organization.
Over the course of three years, investigators interviewed 400 individuals from the Hispanic Miami LGBTQ community who had suffered what they perceived as a crime. In 85% of the incidents, people did not report the facts to the authorities, the study concluded. And 95% of victims said they were victimized by their LGBTQ identity.
“It was heartbreaking to listen to these people, their struggles and the lack of support they receive. They are forced to hide their true experiences,” observed the study’s author, Besiki Luka Kutateladze, FIU’s criminology professor specializing in procedural reform. “What surprised me the most is how little these crimes are reported.”
Judicial authorities knew that the number of cases reported by the LGBTQ collective is well below reality; the study’s findings verify this thesis, Miami-Dade State Prosecutor Katherine Fernandez Rundle said.
“Sadly, in the eyes of many people, crimes that are not reported are crimes that did not happen, and that kind of victimization is totally tragic“, Fernandez Rundle said.
Between 2005 and 2019, the Miami-Dade State Prosecutor’s Office filed 23 cases for hate crimes. Eleven were committed for prejudice against the LGBTQ community; six were anti-Jewish or Islamophobic; five were caused by racial or ethnic prejudice, and one for predisposing against a homeless person with mental illness, according to the study.
In 2020, the Prosecutor’s Office’s Hate Crimes Unit has investigated or filed 22 such cases, the Prosecutor’s Office said.
THESE CRIMES OCCUR, BUT THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM DOES NOT DETECT THEM
Conducted with a $500,000 grant from the National Institute of Justice, the study was based on interviews with victims and lawyers, as well as the review of accusatory records.
Originally 875 people were interviewed, 400 of whom met the criterion for participating: being over the age of 18, residing in Miami, being Hispanic, identifying as part of the LGBTQ collective, and being victims of hate crimes. Nearly 90% of interviews were conducted in Spanish, an indicator of the limited english language management of gay Hispanic victims of crime.
The study’s findings include:
▪ 30% of 400 victims surveyed experienced physical or sexual assault.
▪ 52% of the assaults were perpetrated by acquaintances of the victims.
▪ 35% of the 60 reported incidents resulted in an arrest.
▪ 23% of reported incidents resulted in prosecution, but not necessarily as a hate crime.
“These crimes happen, but the criminal justice system does not detect them,” Kutateladze warned. “We must find a way to detect them better, because if we don’t, we can’t prevent them.”
Sociological, psychological and cultural factors, as well as people’s immigration status, combine to silence homophobic and transphobic violence suffered by LGBTQ Latino immigrants, experts said.
“There may be fear of the judicial system and LGBTQ people may feel that the criminal justice system will not support them,” explained prosecutor Fernández Rundle. “In addition, some members of the LGBTQ community may not have identified as such with their family and friends, so reporting that they were victims of a hate crime could have profound potential effects.”
Francesco Duberli, executive director of Survivors’ Pathway, a center that provides care services to victims of crime from marginalized populations in Miami, said many Miami-based LGBTQ Latinos emigrated because they were victimized in their home countries. “Justice there didn’t work for them, but became a tool of oppression” he said.
One of the interviewees in the FIU study, for example, said he was physically assaulted by police in the Dominican Republic when he went to the authorities to make a complaint, Kutateladze said.
This internalization of oppression suffered by some immigrants manifests itself in the way the Hispanic LGBTQ community relates to justice in Miami, Duberli said.
“There is a paradox: although we have managed to build a city where we feel safe and welcome as an LGBTQ community, we also live with an extremely sexist and homophobic culture in the immigrant community“, observed Duberli, chairman of the Miami-Dade County Hispanic Affairs Board. “We must address the issue of Latin American immigrant homophobia.”
GENDER IDENTITY IS NOT PROTECTED BY FLORIDA’S HATE CRIMES ACT
Hate crimes in Florida are often not reported significantly, in part because of the stigma they carry associated with, experts argue.
According to FBI statistics for 2018, the most recent year with data available, 141 hate crimes were reported in Florida, compared to 523 and 455 in New York and Texas, respectively, states with similar populations.
“One of the main problems is that gender identity is not protected by Florida’s hate crimes act“, said David Barkey, an anti-defamation league (ADL) attorney. “If someone commits a crime because the victim is transgender, the aggressor cannot be prosecuted for a hate crime for that incident.”
Advocating for changes in the statutes of this state law is one of seven policy recommendations that the study makes to the Miami-Dade Public Prosecutor’s Office and Police. Another proposal is to establish a hate crime detection protocol for 911 operators, patrol officers, detectives and prosecutors.
“If the emergency services do not correct the initial report, leaving evidence that the person became a target for their sexual orientation, they are unlikely to be prosecuted as a hate crime“, Barkey said.
Fernandez Rundle said he plans to establish a special force against hate crimes in the participation of the LGBTQ community and other key participants. He added that another recommendation that can be implemented quickly is to increase the training of justice professionals and the police to identify hate crimes and understand the concerns of LGBTQ victims.
Kutateladze, the author of the study, concluded that many of the municipal police departments in Miami-Dade are “not progressive” on the LGBTQ front. At the same time, the perception of the victims interviewed is that “the police are not interested in LGBTQ issues or do not understand them.”
While his research focused on the LGBTQ collective, “the concerns he raises intersect with multiple races, ethnicities and religions,” Fernandez Rundle said. “Fear of reporting crimes is not an isolated fact of the LGBTQ community.”