A report released yesterday ranked Arizona near the top of a prominent list.
Unfortunately, that report listed the Copper State 5th highest for reported incidents of hate crimes against the LGBTQ community.
The ranking was published by Security.org, an organization which analyzed FBI crime data compiled from 2013 through 2019 to produce its study, entitled “The Rise of Anti-LGBT Hate Crimes by State.”
According to the report issued Sept. 11, the number of reported anti-LGBTQ hate crimes in the state increased by 30% since 1996; such crimes were reported at a rate of 0.95 per 100,000 residents.
Only the District of Columbia, Vermont, Washington and Massachusetts reported a higher rate of incidents.
Measured as a portion of the total number of reported bias-motivated crimes, more than 23% of all in Arizona’s incidents targeted members of the LGBTQ community, ranking the state 10th in that category.
Nevada, Wyoming, D.C., Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Texas, California, Maryland and Delaware all ranked higher in that category.
While the prevalence of hate-inspired violence may reasonably stoke fears among members of targeted communities, one local advocate says the reality isn’t as bleak as the data may suggest.
Jeremy Helfgot, proprietor of the firm H.M. Helfgot Communications, is a spokesperson for Phoenix Pride, an advocacy group for the LGBTQ community in Arizona.
He said participation at Phoenix Pride events has grown exponentially over the past decade, inspiring optimism despite negative perceptions.
“Obviously, that news is alarming and its a trend of which the community has been aware. But, that said, there is constant work being done to address these issues on multiple levels, from continuing the educate the public, to working through policy, to working with the appropriate law enforcement agencies at every level – local, state and federal – to ensure that the community is safe,” Mr. Helfgot said.
The Pride festival, hosted at Steele Indian School Park in Phoenix in April, drew more than 50,000 participants, while an estimated 10,000 spectators cheered on a parade of more than 4,000 participants at the two-day event.
Though public events, such as pride parades, may enflame some critics and, perhaps, inspire activism against the community, the value of engagement transcends any potential negative response, Mr. Helfgot suggested.
“I think there will always be elements of backlash. We see it at our festival and parade every year. There’s always a small handful of very loud protestors outside the gates, but those are to most, on the heaviest day, a couple of dozen people in a sea of thousands and thousands and thousands of supporters,” he said. “I think the success and the impact that events like these have becomes very clear in their positive results.”
Mr. Helfgot praised local civic and law enforcement officials for their efforts to combat hate crimes, citing examples in Phoenix and Tempe, where ordinances target anti-LGBTQ crimes and provide additional protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, even though there are currently no state statutes recognizing those distinctions.
The Phoenix Police Department assigns several detectives to investigate reported bias-based crimes and examines other violent crime cases to determine if bias may have played a role, explained police spokesman Sgt. Tommy Thompson.
“We have detectives assigned to reviewing incidents to find out if they are biased crimes or if we’ve missed one that could be classified as a biased crime,” Mr. Thompson said.
He said detectives don’t only consider crimes, which may be motivated against the LGBTQ community – but rather, they investigate crimes directed against numerous vulnerable populations.
“It’s not uncommon to have the LGBTQ community. It’s not uncommon to have different racial communities that are involved or religious groups,” Mr. Thompson said. “When we talk about biased crimes, we look at everything in which a person might be biased against another person, whether it be race, religion, sexual orientation. And our department is committed to ensuring the rights of everyone.”
While searching for evidence of specific bias against victims, detectives are diligent not to jump to conclusions; they consider a variety of criteria before assigning the label.
Racially tinged foul language alone, for instance, may not provide a definitive indicator of hate-motive when investigating an altercation or other violent incident, he said.
Mr. Thompson suggested that not all communities are as diligent in investigating bias in their violent crime investigations, while others may not choose to report them as rigorously.
Higher rates of hate crimes reported in federal data may, in part, reflect his department’s commitment to highlighting the problem, he offered.
“If we’re out there beating the bushes, if we’re out there trying to find out about it after the case, then common sense tells that we’re going to have more than somebody that’s not doing anything about it,” Mr. Thompson said.
Mr. Helfgot, who identified himself as a straight ally of the LGBTQ community, said the Phoenix Pride organization relies on donations of time and money to support their efforts.
The group always needs volunteers to assist with logistics and other needs at its large public events, as well as professional and administrative workers at the organization’s Phoenix office, he said.
“The events that Pride produces are massive in scale and they are heavily volunteer-driven,” Mr. Helfgot said. “There are also opportunities at all kind of levels to engage, to have a good time, to be a part of the community and to actually help make the event a success.”
Their next big event — the Phoenix Rainbows Festival — is slated for 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Nov. 2-3 at Heritage Square Park in Phoenix. To learn more about the free public event, visit rainbowsfestival.org.
For more information about other Phoenix Pride events and volunteer opportunities, visit phoenixpride.org.