From the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Year in Hate and Extremism 2019”

March 20, 2020; Colorlines, The Root, and NBC News

In the same week that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released its annual The Year in Hate and Extremism study for 2019, a lawsuit was filed against the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) alleging that its proposal to allow organizations to receive federal funds even if they exclude LGBTQ people violates federal civil rights statutes.

The suit was filed by civil rights group Lambda Legal and nonprofit Democracy Forward on behalf of three LGBTQ advocacy groups. HHS contends that this proposal of nonenforcement would “better align” HHS grant regulations with “federal statutes, eliminating regulatory burden, including burden on the free exercise of religion.” What links this back to the SPLC study is their finding of a 43 percent spike in anti-LGBTQ hate groups, which rose from 49 in 2018 to 70 in 2019. In the report, SPLC also draws a connection between this increase and the actions of the federal government and the Trump administration.

In its executive summary, the report states, “The Trump administration has fully embraced anti-LGBTQ leaders and their agendas, enacting numerous policies targeting the rights of LGBTQ people. President Trump, once again, lent the legitimacy of the White House to hate groups like the Family Research Council when he spoke at its annual Values Voter Summit last October.”

The leadership of the LGBTQ community has received these actions, as well as the SPLC report’s findings, as a call to action for all who care about civil and human rights. Highlighting the rise of anti-LGBTQ violence is extremely important, says Shannon Miller, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, in a statement.

The resurgence of these groups poses a real danger to LGBTQ people and to the progress we have made, which feels increasingly precarious in the face of this administration’s shocking support for anti-LGBTQ hate groups and apparent determination to roll back even the most basic legal protections for LGBTQ people.

A major focus of the SPLC report is documenting the rise of white nationalism, an ideology that embraces an anti-LGBTQ message along with hate for other groups—immigrants, Jews, Muslims, and people of color. Most often, according to the report, these white supremacist groups use the internet to recruit and to spread hateful propaganda. Their target audience is young people, and their aim is, indeed, to instigate violence. SPLC saw a 55 percent increase in the number of white nationalist groups since 2017. They attribute much of this rise to the presidency of Donald Trump. Trump, notes the SPLC report, first “energized white nationalists” in his 2016. The report notes that many white nationalists saw Trump “as an avatar of their grievances and their anxiety over the country’s demographic changes.”

Perhaps one of the most disturbing conclusions in the SPLC report is that the eight-percent drop in the number of hate groups (from 1,020 in 2018 compared to 940 in 2019) is attributed to the penetration of extremist ideas and people who believe in them into the “realm of legitimate politics.” SPLC points to public policies that target immigrants, LGBTQ people, and Muslims that would never have been considered a few years ago. As the report states:

The Trump administration has installed members of hate groups into government—particularly those with anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim or anti-LGBTQ animus—and put in place highly punitive policies that seemed unthinkable just a few short years ago. These political moves will far outlast this administration, as Trump and his allies in the U.S. Senate have pushed through hundreds of new federal judges, many of whom are hostile to civil rights concerns and will serve for decades.

There is a little irony that the SPLC report was released the same week as the lawsuit against HHS over allowing discrimination against LGBTQ people by their grantees. Anti-LGBTQ groups were the fastest growing sector of hate groups in 2019, and the report points to rising anti-LGBTQ sentiment within the Republican Party.

With many protections for LGBTQ being removed via executive orders and claims of religious exemptions, there are limited venues for LGBTQ people to go to receive fair treatment—especially youth and the elderly, who are most vulnerable. If there’s a ray of hope in the report, it’s in the recommendations offered to those who seek to confront the scourge of White Nationalism and its hateful attacks on vulnerable and diverse populations:

A full defense of inclusive democracy will require not only appropriate federal action, but local responses by city, county and state governments; litigation strategies that hold hate groups accountable for the harm they cause; technology companies enforcing their own policies that restrict the ability of hate groups to operate online; and support for individuals and organizations willing to courageously reach out, neighbor to neighbor, to stand up for each other’s civil and human rights. This is what must constitute a national movement against organized hate and extremism in America.

—Carole Levine