Hate crimes are reportedly on the rise nationally, according to the FBI, and incidents directed toward the LGBTQ community make up roughly 17% of those reported.
But the Capital Region is no exception to hate directed toward those within the community, with three known instances taking place in Albany in 2019, the most recent year for which statistics have been made available.
Local examples from the Gazette’s archive show several instances of hateful behavior or speech within the last year, such as homophobic signs on neighbors’ lawns and the theft of pride flags at a town park. And local community organizations like Albany’s In Our Own Voices, whose CEO has seen such incidents first hand in recent months, are working to ensure victims of these attacks and instances have services readily available.
The FBI’s hate crime statistics from 2016 to 2019 — the most recent statistics available — show an increase from 1,076 to 1,195 hate crime incidents targeted on the basis of sexual orientation. Overall hate crimes have increased from 6,121 incidents in 2016 to 7,314 incidents in 2019. Sexual-orientation targeted incidents stayed relatively stagnant in the latest data, decreasing to 1,195 in 2019 from 1,196 in 2018.
A criminal act against someone motivated by sexual orientation, gender or gender identity falls under the hate crime category, according to Sarah Ruane, public affairs specialist at the Albany office of the FBI.
But many people in the LGBTQ community are targeted outside of the FBI’s hate crime definition, according to Tandra LaGrone, CEO of community organization In Our Own Voices.
“There are strict guidelines and categories as to what defines a hate crime,” LaGrone said. “There are strict guidelines on how you can prosecute that. At In Our Own Voices, we’ve had LGBT TGNC folks targeted. A lot of these things are still happening, people are not feeling safe.”
Last year, the LGBTQ community was among those targeted by a Sharon Springs resident who posted homophobic signs on his lawn along with racist and anti-Semitic signs. The signs were protected speech under the First Amendment, according to Schoharie County Undersheriff Duane Tillapuagh.
“If our office could literally do anything about it we would,” Tillapuagh said back in June. “We think it’s disgusting … and apparently that’s his mentality about how things should be in this day and age, and we wholeheartedly disagree.”
The signs have since been removed, according to Sharon Springs Mayor Doug Plummer. Despite the complaints regarding such signs locally, hate speech is still protected speech, Ruane said.
That same month, on June 20, The Gazette reported that three different pride flags were stolen from a small town park in Milton between June 1 and June 20. Benny Zlotnick, the Milton town supervisor, said the town took the flag down at the end of pride month and noted that the “controversy has gone away.”
“We had no trouble after security measures were taken,” Zlotnick said.
Zlotnick said he plans on having the flag back up for Pride Month in June.
But instances of hate against those in the LGBTQ+ community are part of a systemic problem, experts say, and local community organizations are offering ways to help those in the LGBTQ community who are looking for assistance.
Sometimes those organizations, too, get targeted for their work. In Our Own Voices, an organization that’s mission is to “work for and ensure the physical, mental, spiritual, political, cultural and economic survival and growth of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people of color communities,” has had banners ripped, bibles left at their doors on Lark Street and flowers thrown around.
LaGrone, too, has felt targeted based on her race and sexual orientation in the Capital Region in recent weeks, having been run off the road after a man spotted her in a pride scarf at a grocery store. But this hasn’t stopped her, or the organization, from fulfilling its promise.
“As an Albanian, born and raised, and as a Black, lesbian woman, who has experienced events in my life where I did not feel safe, it’s important for me to make sure that others are educated and feel like they have support systems in place like a hotline to listen to them… It takes courage for our employees to do this work on a daily basis and to deliver these services. [And there’s] the courage it takes for the community to walk out knowing that if they leave the building, they can be targeted as well.”
These services include the Capital Region LGBT Anti-Violence Project, which offers individual counseling, emergency assistance and a 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. support line. Under the project, there are encompassing programs such as the Office of Victim Services Program and the Department of Criminal Justice Program that can assist with specific needs.
“Any person can call if they feel they have been a victim of a hate crime, domestic violence, sexual fault, we will walk you through the process of compensation and services. Whether someone broke into your car or you were physically attacked and have medical bills.”
All of In Our Own Voices’ services can be viewed online at InOurOwnVoices.org.