On Tuesday, prosecutors charged the person suspected of killing five people and hurting more than a dozen others at the LGBTQ+ club in Colorado Springs with 305 criminal counts. Those charges for November’s shooting include first-degree murder, assault, and bias-motivated crimes.
Shootings like the one in Colorado Springs, while the most extreme, are not the only form of hate. Hate crimes reported to authorities in recent years have risen to levels never seen before, according to FBI hate crime statistics, but hateful rhetoric is also on the rise an counts of AAPI hate, anti-Semitism, and other forms of xenophobia are on the rise as well.
“It makes me question who I am and sometimes depending on the day and where I’m at, is it worth being out?” said Anaya Robinson, a queer Latin trans man and member of the ACLU in Colorado. “I think the impact of [hate speech] is one of the reasons we lose so many in our community, not only to violence from others but because it gets so hard to want to continue existing.”
According to a study from the Extremism Research Center at Cal State San Bernadino, bias-motivated incidents are up 5% in 2022 after they rose nearly 30% last year, the highest number in more than a decade.
The incidents are just those reported and do not account for the language and peer-to-peer incidents these communities face daily.
“It can lead to violence. It leads to targeting of people. It leads to dehumanizing others. The rhetoric can have multiple impacts,” said Jeremy Shaver of the Anti-Defamation League. “It’s important [to stand up to hate speech] because it’s not an exaggeration to say lives are at risk. This is a matter of life or death. We’ve seen it play out time and time again in all aspects of society.”
Last year, the Brookings Institution studied this as it found, “prejudiced speech, especially when endorsed by elite members of society such as famous people, is particularly powerful, emboldening audiences to declare their own prejudices and act on them accordingly.”
“We don’t have to be confrontational about [standing up to hate],” said Shaver. “We can have conversation and dialogue and say, ‘Hey, I heard you say that and that really impacted me. Can you tell me why you feel that way?’ and really engage someone in a conversation. I think that makes a difference.”
“We’re tired all the time,” added Robinson. “We’re just, for a lot of us, getting up every day and baseline trying to survive so we don’t always have the energy to rebut or stand up when that harmful language is happening.”
To some, interjecting when someone is being targeted might seem small, but to those this speech affects on such a profound level, it makes a difference.
“When we have allies standing up for us in those spaces where other people are trying to dehumanize us, that helps us understand that we are not alone in this,” said Robinson.