In the six months before the weekend massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, more than 200 bills had been introduced at the state and local levels to restrict the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
While other motives may have inspired the attack, which killed 49 people, advocates say the rate of hate crimes against LGBT people goes up when there is a debate over their rights.
The sponsors of the various bills say they are not intended to promote violence against LGBT people.
Rather, the supporters say they want to protect the religious freedom of people who oppose same-sex marriage, or the concerns of people who feel uncomfortable using the same restroom as transgender individuals.
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I absolutely do not think (HB2) has anything to do with any of it.
Republican N.C. state Rep. Julia Howard, who sponsored the bill
Federal hate crime statistics, meanwhile, show that LGBT people are frequent targets of violence and harassment.
According to the FBI, more than 1,000 hate crimes reported in 2014 were motivated by sexual orientation, and another 100 were motivated by gender identity. Together, those accounted for more than 20 percent of all hate crimes, a term that also covers characteristics such as race, religion and disability.
David Dinielli, deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group, said LGBT people have been targeted for hate crimes in extreme numbers and rates. The rates go up when there is a debate about the rights of LGBT people, he said, especially when the rhetoric is false.
Dinielli said that religious liberty, safety and privacy have become the weapons of choice for lawmakers determined to undercut the legal victories LGBT people have achieved, including gay marriage and transgender rights.
According to the FBI, more than 1,000 hate crimes reported in 2014 were motivated by sexual orientation, and another 100 were motivated by gender identity. Together, those accounted for more than 20 percent of all hate crimes.
“We’ve seen tremendous progress in protection of the rights of LGBT people,” Dinielli said. “We knew to expect there would be a backlash.”
Two top supporters of North Carolina’s House Bill 2 said on Monday that the law could not have influenced the violence displayed in Orlando.
HB2 requires transgender people to use the restrooms in government buildings that correspond to the gender on their birth certificate, rather than their gender identity.
“We can’t control what everybody says or what everybody thinks,” Republican Rep. Julia Howard, of Mocksville, North Carolina, who sponsored the bill that became law.
Anti-LGBT sentiment is not present in HB2 or among the majority of North Carolinians, she added.
“I absolutely do not think (HB2) has anything to do with any of it,” Howard said of the Orlando attack. Instead, she said, North Carolina’s law was necessary to reverse a city of Charlotte ordinance that sought to expand LGBT protections.
Howard expressed doubt that shooter Omar Mateen targeted LGBT people on purpose, though Pulse nightclub was packed on a weekend during gay pride month. It seemed, she said, he was exploiting a “caged target,” meaning the venue offered little opportunity to escape quickly once shooting began.
Also in North Carolina, Republican state Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam said HB2 is in no way a law that promotes violence against LGBT people. Critics of HB2 who say the law is discriminatory against LGBT people are wrong, Stam said.
Stam blamed the attack on the Islamic State, “an all-purpose killing machine,” that has targeted a range of people, including Christians, gay people and people with disabilities.
The gay club that Mateen targeted had nothing to do with rhetoric surrounding laws like HB2, Stam said. Mateen’s motives, Stam said, appear to be tied to his religious leanings and views on the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
“We need to eradicate ISIS,” Stam said.
In Colorado — where a religious freedom bill proposed by Republican lawmakers died in a legislative committee earlier this year — two state representatives said Monday their proposal should not be considered motivation for discrimination or violence against LGBT people.
“I don’t know why this would inflame anyone,” said state Rep. Kathleen Conti, a Republican from Littleton, Colorado, who co-sponsored the failed religious freedom bill.
I strongly condemn violence. Christians ought to be nonviolent. Muslims — not so much. At least they don’t think that way.
Colorado state Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, a key player in the state’s proposed religious freedom bills
The proposed bill in Colorado sought to elevate religious freedoms in the state by putting in place higher hurdles for any government restrictions on religious practices. Two other recent related bills in Colorado — which also failed to gather enough support — would have allowed businesses to deny services for same-sex weddings.
Colorado state Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, a key player in the state’s proposed religious freedom bills, rejected any ties to the Orlando massacre and political debate about LGBT rights.
“I strongly condemn violence,” Klingenschmitt, a Republican from Colorado Springs, said. “Christians ought to be nonviolent. Muslims — not so much. At least they don’t think that way.”
Klingenschmitt was widely denounced by Colorado Republicans and Democrats alike last year after announcing in an online video that gay Boy Scout troop leaders were a danger to children.
“This is what Jesus said about child molesters: ‘If you’re going to cause a child to sin, it’d be better if you just had a millstone hung around your neck and you were drowned in the depths of the sea,” Klingenschmitt said in the video.
In Arkansas, a state law passed last year that prevents local governments from passing non-discrimination laws that go further than state law. The law establishes state law as the authority on non-discrimination measures, and current state law excludes sexual orientation and gender identity.
I don’t agree with the LGBT community, but the last thing I’m looking for is someone to get hurt.
Arkansas state Sen. Bart Hester, who co-sponsored its state law
Proponents say the law aims to make civil rights protections uniform across the state by preempting cities and towns from creating their own laws addressing discrimination. Civil rights groups decry the law as discriminatory.
The law’s co-author, Arkansas state Republican Sen. Bart Hester, said Monday the law isn’t discriminatory against LGBT people and disagreed with any suggestion that anti-LGBT political rhetoric in the United States possibly influenced Saturday’s violence in Orlando.
He blamed “radical Islam” for the killings.
“I don’t agree with the LGBT community, but the last thing I’m looking for is someone to get hurt,” Hester said. “Politics is about disagreements, not getting hurt.”
This shooting was done by a Muslim because they hate homosexuals. We don’t hate homosexuals. . . . We love the sinner, hate the sin.
Mississippi state Rep. Randy Boyd, a co-sponsor of its religious freedom law
In Mississippi, sponsors of House Bill 1523, which gives businesses and other organizations the right to refuse marriage-related services to members of the LGBT community, said Monday that the law has nothing to do with the shootings in Orlando.
“It does not promote discrimination,” said Rep. Randy Boyd, a Republican from North Mississippi. “It just protects Christians from being forced to do something that they don’t believe in.
“This shooting was done by a Muslim because they hate homosexuals,” Boyd said. “We don’t hate homosexuals. We don't like what they’re doing. But we’re not out to get them or kill them or anything like that. We love the sinner, hate the sin.”
Boyd and Republican Rep. Scott Bounds, who is from central Mississippi, said the bill was designed to protect the religious beliefs of those who oppose LGBT rights. Bounds called the shooting “horrendous.”
“That’s just not something that we want to see happen anywhere to anybody, to any human being whatsoever,” Bounds said.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article wrongly attributed quotes about the Arkansas law to state Rep. Bob Ballinger, one of its lead authors. Ballinger was not interviewed, and the comments should have been attributed to Arkansas state Sen. Bart Hester, another lead author on the bill.
Tony Pugh, John Tompkins, Eleanor Mueller and Megan Henney of the McClatchy Washington Bureau and Anita Lee of the Biloxi, Miss., Sun Herald contributed to this article.