The fastest growing number of known hate groups in the U.S. are focused on opposing LGBTQ rights, according to a report released Wednesday.
Last year there was a massive 43 percent increase in the number of organizations dedicated to opposing LGBTQ equality, the advocacy group Southern Poverty Law Center found in its yearly hate group index released on Wednesday. There were 70 anti-LGBTQ hate groups operating in 2019, as opposed to just 49 for the two consecutive years prior.
While the number of anti-LGBTQ groups is surging, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports that the total number of all known hate groups has actually decreased since 2018. The advocacy group attributed the slight overall decline of seven percent to a fissure in neo-Nazi groups, as two of the nation’s largest organizations “collapsed amid leadership turmoil.” But general white nationalist groups remained on the rise last year, ticking up 55 percent in just two years’ time.
Among the most pernicious organizations spotlighted in this year’s report include the Alliance Defending Freedom, a right-wing legal group based in Arizona, and the Family Research Council, which operates out of the District of Columbia. In 2019, the ADF fought to defend Colorado baker Jack Phillips’ right to refuse service to same-sex couples at the Supreme Court and is responsible for the introduction of anti-trans bills in state legislatures across the country. Family Research Council, meanwhile, opposes anti-bullying legislation and supports anti-gay conversion therapy.
Lecia Brooks, outreach director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said that Trump is directly responsible for the flourishing of these groups across the country. Since his 2017 inauguration, Brooks said he has allowed these groups “unfettered access” to the White House—with FRC President Tony Perkins reportedly serving as a key advisor on the president’s ban on open trans military service.
“Trump has really surrounded himself with these people and promoted them to various positions within his administration,” Brooks told VICE. “It just drives the agenda.”
While the Southern Poverty Law Center attributes the green light from the Trump administration for encouraging the spread of new anti-LGBTQ groups, the organization said the symbiotic relationship has been extremely destructive to already vulnerable populations. Within the past three years, the White House has rolled back protections and resources for LGBTQ workers, trans people who need gender-affirming access to homeless shelters, LGBTQ seniors, people with HIV serving in the armed forces, and LGBTQ people seeking life-saving medical care.
Meanwhile, the advocacy group Lambda Legal found in a 2019 report that the Trump administration had nominated at least 50 judges to circuit court positions with a “demonstrated history of anti-LGBTQ bias.” The U.S. justice system is “now indisputably in a state of crisis,” it proclaimed.
“It's disappointing that we’re having to re-fight these battles, to say the least,” Brooks said. “It really shows you that who's in charge at the federal level can really change how society views you.”
These battles are not merely being fought in the courts and in Congress. Many LGBTQ people are fighting to stay alive as homophobia and transphobia spread throughout the nation. Brooks said the uptick in hate groups correlates with a general rise in targeted attacks against the members of the LGBTQ community: A 2019 report released by the Federal Bureau of Investigations found that hate crimes against LGBTQ people had increased six percent over the past year.
Not all members of the LGBTQ community are equally impacted by violent hate, though. At least 26 transgender people were killed in the U.S. last year, per numbers from the advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, and the vast majority of victims were Black trans women.
Brooks said there’s a direct connection between those attacks and the Trump administration’s open embrace of anti-LGBTQ hate groups, which includes the president’s repeated appearances at the right-wing Values Voter Summit. “Our research — and everyone's research — will show that this increased rhetoric leads to an increase in hate crimes and hate incidents targeting LGBTQ people,” she said. “When you denigrate an entire group of people, that's what happens. It becomes open season.”
Although Trump pledged to be a “true friend” to queer and trans people during his 2016 campaign, he has never condemned the rise in anti-LGBTQ violence under his presidency. Brooks said that all of us, especially the Commander-in-Chief, have a role in stemming the tide of hate, whether its physical harassment or federal lobbying efforts to strip protections for marginalized people.
“It seems basic, but first and foremost, each of us need to stand up for the humanity of LGBTQ folks and say that we're not going to re-litigate the fact that LGBTQ people have civil rights,” she said. “We're not moving back on that. People have a right to marry whoever they choose and have a right to be whoever they are.”
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.