Do you think London is becoming more homophobic? Your response is likely to be influenced by many variables: where you live, where you’re from, where you hang out and who with, your appearance, how unlucky you are…
Sure, there’s plenty of visible support for gays in the UK, but like it or not, police statistics indicate a 28% rise in homophobic hate crimes in London over the last four years. That’s quite a jump. In 2010, police officers in the capital received 1,545 reports of homophobic incidents, and while homophobic crime across London dropped by 7% in the last year, it rose by a massive 20.9% in the West End.
According to a 2008 YouGov poll commissioned by Stonewall, one in five people in London said they’d been a victim of at least one hate incident in the past three years, and one in eight in the last year. So just what is going on in the streets of London? Are we getting better at reporting incidents to authorities, or is gay hate really on the rise? For Sam Dick, a Policy Officer with Stonewall, it’s a question that’s difficult to answer with any certainty.
“What we have seen recently is a number of really disturbing and serious hate crimes taking place in the Capital. We’d be very concerned if the Metropolitan Police or the Mayor assumed that the figures were increasing solely because they were doing such a good job at getting people to report. What we do know from our research is that whilst Londoners are no more likely to be victims of homophobic hate crimes than anyone else in the UK, they do feel far more vulnerable and exposed.”
Sam says that reporting hate incidents or crimes to the police is the single most effective way of preventing them happening in the future. That means reporting everything from discrimination, verbal abuse and violence. According to Stonewall’s research, a third of victims don’t report incidents because they don’t think anything would or could be done about it. One in five don’t even think what they’ve experienced is an offence. When it comes to avoiding crime, we’re unfortunately more likely to change our behaviour instead.
“It’s a real shame… It shouldn’t be for individuals to feel that they have to change… and it goes further than not kissing your partner in the street – some people avoid phone conversations in public because they’re worried they might inadvertently reveal the gender of their partner, or they’ll dress, walk or talk in a certain way, or they’ll stop going to gay venues.”
“Then, the Monday before the John Snow incident, a friend came to me, very distraught. He’d just lost his job at an establishment in Soho – he’d been working there since 2004. He’d been asked to evict a gay couple who had been kissing, despite there being straight couples in there kissing too. He refused, was screamed and yelled at by the manager, and eventually felt that he had no alternative but to quit.”
Shetler says that we have to stand up for ourselves whenever homophobia happens, because if we don’t, nobody else will.
“We have to remember our rights are provisional. Until we are fully accepted as human beings, and that our rights are seen as human rights, not just special gay rights, we will always be under threat whenever there’s a crisis.”
18 year old Mohammed Hasnath was the individual responsible for the gay free zone sticker campaign. In June, he was fined a mere £100 by the courts. According to gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, it’s a case of double standards.“If the stickers had declared East London a Jewish, black, Catholic or Muslim free zone he would have been almost certainly convicted of a racially or religiously aggravated hate crime and jailed. Why the leniency? It looks like judicial homophobia.”
Tatchell believes there should be a stronger community response to homophobic violence.
Stonewall believes the solution lies in better quality data, so the LGBT community, as well as the authorities, get a true picture of homophobia in the UK. Stonewall is pushing for homophobic crime data to be collected as part of the British Crime Survey.
“We’re very mindful that when national agencies are producing data funded by the taxpayer, including LGB taxpayers, that those are the best avenues by which to collate data on homophobic hate crimes,” says Dick. “Since our research was published, homophobic hate crimes are on the national agenda like never before. In addition, the Met Police have rolled out LGBT liaison officers across London. We believe there’s more that needs to be done, so gay people are not just batting away homophobic abuse or violence, thinking that it’s just part of their day to day lives.”
Chris, 45, Finsbury Park
“It was a Saturday afternoon in Finsbury Park in April. I was walking down to grab a coffee when I saw these 4 teenagers on bikes. They were wearing hoodies, and started saying things like, ‘Oh look at that fag’. I casually told them to fuck off and kept walking.
“When I got to an intersection I realised they were right behind me. I heard them say, ‘We’re gonna shove these up your faggot arse’. I turned around and saw they all had knives – not small ones but quite nasty pieces of equipment. I thought, ‘I can’t fucking believe this! It’s broad daylight on a Saturday afternoon in Finsbury Park and this is happening to me! What am I going to do?’
“I headed to a main road, because I thought they wouldn’t do anything in a busy place, but there was nobody around. I made it to the Tesco to ask for help, they followed me the whole way and waited outside. I asked for the security guard – everyone was really nice. They called the police and took me out the back. Once the kids realised what was happening, they took off. I saw them get on the 141 bus.
“I thought, ‘OK, we’ve got the bus number, the CCTV footage – they’ll find them.’ The police asked me plenty of questions and said they’d do everything they could. A few days later I went to the station to give a formal statement and to look at some photos of suspects from the area. I haven’t heard a thing since.
“The whole thing made me feel so weak. I’m 45 and I was assaulted by 4 teenagers for walking down the road to have a coffee.
“I think the spending cuts and the financial crisis are partly to blame. There are the haves and the have nots – the social impact is horrific. You can feel the resentment breeding.”
Mario, Hackney, 35
“I’ve always gone under the radar really. I’m not the violent type. I was assaulted in July last year, heading home after a few drinks at the George & Dragon.
“I’d had a few but I still had my wits about me. I remember seeing a group of 3 guys coming towards me. One of them called me a ‘fucking fag’ and before I knew it, he’d punched me square in the jaw. I’d barely processed what had happened and they were gone. I could still hear them laughing.
“I just figured, ‘well that’s life. What can I do about it?’ You know, survival of the fittest and all that. I’m not the violent type. I went to the hospital, got three stitches and went back to my life. I didn’t report it. I just stopped going to pubs on my own and I get cabs everywhere now.”
Nathan, 41, Clapham
“I was with my boyfriend near Soho Square in January this year and we were jumped by these two thugs. There was 2 of them, just looking for a fight. They seemed really coked up, so aggressive. One of them shoved my boyfriend with his shoulder, and my boyfriend muttered ‘asshole’ under his breath. That was all it took – they pushed him to the ground, kicked him a few times in his stomach and back, took his iPhone too! Then they ran off, yelling out ‘poofter’ and ‘fag’. There were people around, but nobody did anything.
“I didn’t report it to the police because I felt guilty for not standing up for him. I just stood there – frozen. I didn’t know what to do. In the end, it ruined our relationship. I let him down and I let myself down. I’ve replayed it 100 times over in my head and I wonder if I’d do things differently now. It made me feel gutless – like a total coward.”
If you’re a victim of crime, what should you do?
- If you are in danger call 999.
- Report it to police as “a homophobic incident”. Don’t be fobbed off. Ask for the gay liaison officer if you like. You can also call a non-emergency police number or contact Stonewall.
- You must report everything, no matter how minor. Police put their resources where the problems are. If they don’t know about it, they can’t solve it.
- If someone yells out to you on the street don’t react. They’re often looking for a fight and your comeback may escalate the situation. Don’t give them the satisfaction.