A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Homophobia: the forgotten hate crime

Michael Causer's only crime was to be openly gay. For this the trainee hairdresser was dragged from his bed last July and viciously beaten. His piercings were forcibly removed with a knife, according to some witnesses. He died nine days later in hospital from brain injuries.  His killer, James O'Connor, 19, has been sentenced after admitting the murder of the 18-year-old in Liverpool, in a case which, campaigners say, illustrates a rising and little-reported tide of homophobia in Britain.  New research reveals widespread anecdotal evidence that gay and lesbian people experience severe daily harassment and abuse which they do not report to the police. The survey shows that, although society's attitude towards gay and lesbian people appears to be more tolerant, bubbling beneath the surface, and often unreported, is a stream of abuse and harassment. In July, Gerald Edwards, 59, was stabbed to death in the home in Bromley, Kent, that he shared with his partner, Chris Bevan, who was seriously injured in what police believe was a homophobic attack. It is has become quite commonplace for these vicious attacks due to ignorance, fear and hatred to occur; scandalously though, nobody seems to be taking any notice of this injustice.

A report published by the charity Galop, the Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence and Policing Group and the Metropolitan Police, found that homophobic hate crime is seriously under-reported, partly because of out-of-date contact numbers and addresses, but also because of fears of reprisals and a belief that the police don't take them seriously. But those incidents that are reported to lesbian and gay groups can take place in daylight, often feature casual violence and verbal abuse, and frequently take the form of persistent bullying from neighbours. Researchers found that nearly half of all victims reporting to lesbian and gay organisations knew their aggressor. Over a quarter of all incidents involved physical violence. Figures from the Met show that in the last year reported homophobic hate crime in London has risen by more than 5 per cent, from 1,008 to 1,062 incidents. London's gay and lesbian population is thought to stand at around 750,000. National figures on homophobic incidents are not collected by the Home Office, however. A survey by Stonewall, the gay rights charity, published last year found that one in five gay people had been the victim of a hate crime in the last three years.

Stonewall also published a report earlier this year which revealed a "deeply alarming" amount of homophobia in schools - the report is the largest survey of both primary and secondary schoolteachers on the issue of homophobic bullying. Called The Teachers' Report, it showed that around 150,000 pupils are affected by anti-gay bullying. Not only are children who are thought to be gay victims of name-calling and abuse, but pupils are picked out because they are boys who work hard or girls who play sport or because they have gay parents. Nine in 10 secondary school teachers and two in five primary school teachers said pupils experience homophobic bullying, even if they are not gay. Deborah Gold, chief executive of Galop, said: "Homophobic and transphobic crime is certainly not going down. Whether it's going up or whether there's increased reporting is hard to say. But it is as significant a problem as it always has been. On the face of it there's increased acceptance [of gay people], but when you look at homophobic bullying in schools or the abuse people face when they are leaving their homes from neighbours or kids shouting at them, it's a significant problem."

Homophobia exists in many different forms in many different parts of the world. It ranges from people expressing disapproval for a person’s sexuality to homosexuality being completely outlawed in a country. It means that gay people the world over have to usually face some sort of discrimination simply based on who they are attracted to – but in some countries it can actually be a life-threatening decision to come out. The excuses – for they are excuses and not reasons – for homophobia are many and varied. Religion plays a big part in many people’s excuses, especially in more conservative countries. It does not matter which religion – many people have claimed that their holy laws prevent them from accepting gay people. Having said that, there are also many religious people who realise this is a prejudiced stance to take and are not homophobic. The term homophobia itself of course, roughly translates as fear of homosexuality, just as arachnophobia is fear of spiders. But homophobia is not really a fear. It may be a fear of something different but this should never be used as an excuse. In fact the people who have most to fear are gay people themselves. They can be bullied, tortured, imprisoned and killed, depending on where they live in the world, and just because they are gay.

Homophobia is far more about people not understanding that a choice of partner should not change the way that person is treated. Most religious excuses for homophobia say that God forbids homosexuality but the counter argument to this is that God also says love one another. In the UK certainly, homophobia is getting less common although many people’s attitudes, especially older people, are so ingrained that it will be impossible to change them. But in the past, it has been far worse for gay people. In the past, it has been illegal and gay people were discriminated against on a regular basis. In fact, until as recently as 1999, homosexual people were banned from signing up to the British Army – a shocking fact rooted in nothing but prejudice. Although homosexual people in Britain can still face prejudice from their peers and parents, it is now illegal to discriminate against someone based on their sexuality. However, there are still about 70 countries worldwide where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by a variety of means. Some countries, such as Mozambique, have heavy prison sentences for gay people, while in countries like Sudan and Saudi Arabia, the penalty is death – a shocking thought that someone could be sentenced to die based on their sexuality. This fact should shock most British people as much as if it was based on their race or gender.

In other countries, gay marriage has been approved, paving the way for complete equality. Some countries only recognise civil partnerships at the moment but these do at least give gay couples some legal recourse. In the USA, each state is different – widely so, from accepting gay marriages to being very disapproving of homosexuality in general. Homophobia must be outlawed everywhere but the chances of this happening do not look good. The views are too ingrained against it in many corners of the world. And even in our own society, there are far too many people who see homosexuality as ‘wrong’. The amount of gay young people who struggle to tell their parents highlights this. Attitudes are changing, and certainly in Britain, in time, things will be different, but as for complete riddance of homophobia worldwide? It is a very long shot indeed but one which must eventually be aspired to.

1 comment:

PP said...

For institutional homophobia see how the Cornwall(UK) police have behaved!