NORFOLK, Va. — Michelle Reed is proud to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community in Hampton Roads.
She’s been with the Norfolk-based for nearly 20 years, working with clients throughout southeast Virginia.
“My goal every day is to make someone’s life easier,” Reed told News 3. “We want to live authentically.”
However, she said seeing events like the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando and last November’s shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs make her fearful.
“It changes the way you navigate the world,” she said. “We work here. We go into clubs for outreach, [and to] bars to reach people and for community engagement. To be at a location and to fear for your safety because you’re doing your job, you’re helping your community, it’s horrible. It’s unfair. It’s unfair and it’s unjust.”
She recalls the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando where 49 people were killed. According to , it is the deadliest attack on the LGBTQ+ community in U.S. history.
Last November, , a suspect was accused of killing five people inside the gay nightclub, Club Q, in Colorado Springs, and charged with murder and hate crimes.
Reed told News 3 the LGBT Life Center has received calls for counseling after events like this.
“There is increased anxiety,” she said. “Those types can cause someone to stay in the closet, be fearful, and to close areas of their life that they shouldn’t have to.”
states, “LGBT people are nine times more likely than non-LGBT people to be victims of violent hate crimes.”
This week, News 3 sat down with Jason Bilnoski, Assistant Special Agent in Charge at the FBI’s Norfolk Field Office, about how the bureau is keeping track of hate crimes being reported in Hampton Roads and across the country.
“No one should live in fear of being assaulted or having an act of violence committed against them based on how they identify,” Bilnoski told News 3.
According to FBI Norfolk, a hate crime is defined as some type of criminal activity combined with an offender’s motivation based on a bias.
“That bias can be a variety of things from race, sexual orientation, age, disability, etc,” Bilnoski said.
This year, the FBI released , which notes a rise of 11.6% in reported hate crime incidents compared with 2020.
Bilnoski said, within these stats, sexual orientation ranked second in terms of highest reported incidents behind race.
“What we have seen is a variety of criminal incidents. Anything from threats, intimidations, assaults, and in some cases, murders,” he said.
Bilnoski added, in 2021, there were 54 incidents of overall hate crime reports in Hampton Roads.
He said what’s also concerning are those that are underreported.
“We need the help from the public in bringing these allegations forward,” Bilnoski said.
Meanwhile, Meredith Weisel with the Washington, D.C. Regional Office said they’re working with others, including , to help the LGBTQ community.
“When one individual may be targeted by a hate crime, it has an impact and it harms sort of the entire community,” Weisel said.
Weisel also believes it’s important to have a heightened sense of awareness during Pride Month.
“Anytime you have this narrative out there of conspiracy theories and stereotypes, it can lead individuals or groups to target events,” she said.
As for Reed, she hopes others will live out her goal.
“Make someone’s day a little bit easier. It doesn’t take a lot. It may be saying, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ It may be giving someone a dollar. It may be holding a door for someone,” Reed said. “I just wish it applied to everyone, regardless of demographic.”
Bilnoski said if you believe you’ve been a victim, or have witnessed a hate crime, to contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL FBI.
Aside from their counseling services in Hampton Roads, Reed said you can also reach out to the LGBT National Hotline at 888-843-4564.