This ‘epidemic of violence’ targets transgender and gender non-conforming people: 350 people belonging to the LGBTQ+ community were killed in 2020 on the basis of their gender identity alone, i.e. not just a crime, but a hate crime. This constitutes an ever-increasing number (i.e. 331 in 2019).
COVID-19 strains the global social fabric, profoundly damaging social solidarity mechanisms and reinforcing personal self-protection behaviours, thus laying the foundations for a society where “everyone thinks for themselves”.
Every new, unforeseen and possibly harmful phenomenon creates social insecurity and discomfort: this feeling of instability provokes many people’s fear of being threatened. In these conditions, it is extremely common for society to link their perception of a threat to a specific subject, recognised as the perpetrator of the harm and therefore threatening, thus an enemy.
Such a status not only makes feelings of fear and anger towards such a “dangerous other” plausible and acceptable, but accentuates its effects, generating a chain reaction capable of triggering forms of extreme intolerance, such as hate crimes. What is important to stress is that a single act of violence leads to a snowballing effect with disastrous effects not only on the targeted individual but on the whole community concerned.
The research of Walters, Paterson, Donnell, and Brown (2020) focuses on this chain process and highlights how hate crimes not only generate a general sense of ‘shared suffering’ (based on feelings such as anger, anxiety, etc.) in the whole LGBTQ+ community but also cause further internal and external violence. In other words, violence accentuates the formation of defence mechanisms that manifest as forms of hatred towards members outside the group they belong to. This is due to a process of emotional generalisation that links them to the original hate crime, and to acts of internal violence against other LGBTQ+ members, motivated by strong shame and seeking conformity and social acceptance.
This research paves the way for a fundamental question, namely: when the pandemic finally ends, will these socio-psychological dynamics and the ever-increasing rise in gender-based hate crimes remain its legacy?
The risk is that once this pandemic is over, these behaviours – having persisted within society for a significant period of time – might go from being forms of extremism to becoming part of people’s moral and social codes, thus leading to a normalisation of hatred towards “the different”